Stock Market Today: New COVID Strain Sinks Stocks in Short Session
The WHO assigned the new strain the Greek letter "Omicron" and designated it a "variant of concern."
Thought you were in for a quiet day of post-Thanksgiving trading?
Sorry, just the opposite as stocks spiraled downward in today's abbreviated session.
The reason? A new strain of COVID-19 – B.1.1.529, which was assigned the Greek letter "Omicron" by the World Health Organization (WHO) – that possesses several mutations and was identified recently in Africa, with cases detected in Hong Kong and Europe as well.
"The new COVID variant has dominated attention and led to a sharp selloff among risk assets this morning, and will be closely followed just as a number of countries have moved to tighten up restrictions and even enter lockdowns once again," says Jonathan Jayarajan, research analyst at Deutsche Bank.
Not much is known about this new strain, but several countries have already restricted travel to and from South Africa, including the U.K., France, Germany and Singapore, and the WHO scheduled an emergency meeting Friday where they labeled it a "variant of concern."
When the closing bell mercifully rang during this sell-first, ask-questions-later session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 2.5% at 34,899 – its worst day of the year – the S&P 500 Index was off 2.3% at 4,594 and the Nasdaq Composite was 2.2% lower at 15,491.
But it wasn't just stocks that got hit. Oil prices were down 13.1% to $68.15 per barrel – their lowest settlement since mid-September.
Other news in the stock market today:
- The small-cap Russell 2000 plummeted 3.7% to 2,245.
- Gold futures eked out a marginal gain to settle at $1,785.50 an ounce.
- Bitcoin wasn't spared from the selling, sinking 5.6% to $54,256.53. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 1 p.m.)
- Amid today's COVID-induced broad-market plunge, traditional reopening plays sold off. Airlines and cruise stocks were among the hardest hit, with names like American Airlines (AAL, -8.8%), Delta Air Lines (DAL, -8.3%), Carnival (CCL, -11.0%) and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH, -11.4%) all ending sharply in the red.
- On the flip side, several vaccine makers and stay-at home stocks got a bid. Pfizer (PFE, +6.1%), BioNTech (BNTX, +14.2%), Peloton Interactive (PTON, +5.7%) and Zoom Video Communications (ZM, +5.7%) were some of the day's biggest gainers.
Yes, uncertainty around the new strain is spooking global investors and comes "on the heels of markets beginning to price in a faster pace of policy tightening [from the U.S. Federal Reserve]," say analysts at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute (WFII).
And both of these events occur ahead of a debt-ceiling debate that is about to ramp up again on Capitol Hill (the stopgap bill passed by Congress in late September only runs through Dec. 3) – which could exacerbate volatility.
Still, WFII's analysts note that "the global economy continues to be on solid ground, and fiscal and monetary policy remain supportive, despite some deceleration." As such, they recommend looking past these short-term concerns and taking advantage of the pullback in stocks by buying equities.
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