Stock Market Today: Markets Coast as COVID Variant Cases Climb

Growing signs that the COVID-19 delta variant could be hindering the global economy weighed on oil Monday, but the major indexes finished mixed.

Registered Nurse Ririn Widiashi administers a Pfizer vaccine to a client at the Lebanese Muslim Association in Lakemba on Aug. 8, 2021, in Sydney, Australia.
Registered Nurse Ririn Widiashi administers a Pfizer vaccine to a client at the Lebanese Muslim Association in Lakemba on Aug. 8, 2021, in Sydney, Australia.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The new trading week kicked off on a tranquil note, with the markets barely budging Monday despite signs worldwide that the COVID-19 delta variant could throw a wrench into the recovery.

Here in the U.S., COVID cases have reached six-month highs, averaging 100,000 cases for three consecutive days, according to Reuters – up 35% week-over-week, with hospitalizations up 40%. Spending on airline travel slowed by nearly 20% from a mid-July peak, as well, according to JPMorgan analysts.

Meanwhile, China, Indonesia and other Asian countries, as well as Australia, have stepped up COVID-related lockdowns in response to delta-variant outbreaks.

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U.S. crude oil futures felt the pinch, slipping 2.6% to $66.48 per barrel Monday on fears of falling demand. Meanwhile, Pfizer (PFE (opens in new tab), +2.0%) vaccine partner BioNTech (BNTX (opens in new tab), +15.0%) soared after beating second-quarter earnings expectations by 43%; rival Moderna (MRNA (opens in new tab), +17.1%) rose in sympathy, also sparked by a provisional authorization for its vaccine to be used in Australia.

The broader markets were largely unchanged, however; the Dow Jones Industrial Average (-0.3% to 35,101) and S&P 500 (down marginally to 4,432) backed away from Friday's all-time highs, while the Nasdaq Composite eked out a 0.2% gain to 14,860.

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Other news in the stock market today:

  • The small-cap Russell 2000 declined 0.6% to 2,234.
  • Tesla (TSLA (opens in new tab)) was one of the best mega-cap performers on Monday, gaining 2.1% after Jefferies analysts upgraded it, as well as Ford (F (opens in new tab), -0.4%) and Lithia Motors (LAD (opens in new tab), -0.5%), on electric-vehicle hopes. "We believe auto [manufacturers] can transition into an EV-driven industry of connected products while also operating with less and better allocated capital," they write. "We think this could lead to a re-rating of Auto OEMs' valuation multiples."
  • Air Products & Chemicals (APD (opens in new tab), -5.2%) was one of the few big names on the earnings calendar Monday, struggling after fiscal Q3 earnings missed analyst expectations. The company also lowered its full-year profit guidance.
  • Gold futures slid 1.2% to $1,742.10 per ounce thanks in part to a stronger U.S. dollar.
  • The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) gained 3.6% to 16.73.
  • Bitcoin surged 7.3% over the weekend to $45,985.31. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m. each trading day.)

stock chart for 080921

(Image credit: YCharts)

Keep It Simple

For the past couple weeks, we've discussed continued warnings of late-summer volatility – and the ways you can position yourself to protect against a dip or protect against it.

But for many investors whose plans can be measured in decades, not just years or even months, the best move you can make might be the easiest move of all: just keep strengthening your "core."

We've long extolled the virtues of building the backbone of your retirement portfolio with inexpensive funds – one of the inspirations behind recommendations such as our Kip 25 mutual funds and our Kip ETF 20. But even just one fund – if it's the right fund – could do the trick for many investors.

To investing icon Warren Buffett, the path for most people is simple: buy an S&P 500 fund.

"I recommend the S&P 500 index fund and have for a long, long time," he says, the same sentiment he has expressed for years. The famed stock picker has even put his money where his mouth is, purchasing two S&P 500 funds for the Berkshire Hathaway equity portfolio in 2019.

But what's the best way to play the index? Read on as we explore seven S&P 500 ETFs – including several funds that directly track the 500-company index, as well as a few ETFs that provide unique twists for tactical investors and even traders.

Kyle Woodley

Kyle Woodley is the Editor-in-Chief of Young and The Invested (opens in new tab), a site dedicated to improving the personal finances and financial literacy of parents and children. He also writes the weekly The Weekend Tea (opens in new tab) newsletter, which covers both news and analysis about spending, saving, investing, the economy and more.

Kyle was previously the Senior Investing Editor for, and the Managing Editor for before that. His work has appeared in several outlets, including Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, Barchart, The Globe & Mail and the Nasdaq. He also has appeared as a guest on Fox Business Network and Money Radio, among other shows and podcasts, and he has been quoted in several outlets, including MarketWatch, Vice and Univision. He is a proud graduate of The Ohio State University, where he earned a BA in journalism. 

You can check out his thoughts on the markets (and more) at @KyleWoodley (opens in new tab).