Stock Market Today: Stocks Meander Lower in 2021's Penultimate Session

The S&P 500 and Dow, both eying more record-high territory for most of Thursday, retreated in the session's final minutes.

A stock market ticker board shows a stock heading lower
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The path of least resistance for American equities appeared to be higher for most of a slow-news, low-volume Thursday trading session, but an afternoon swoon resulted in modest losses for the major indexes.

The U.S. on Wednesday set a single-day record of 488,000 new COVID cases, according to the New York Times – a figure suspected to be undercounting the number of actual cases given the rise in at-home tests and the number of asymptomatic cases that have gone undetected.

Wall Street, however, is keeping a stiff upper lip.

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"Despite global surges in COVID cases, the markets are reflecting the new reality that COVID is here to stay, albeit more on our terms than its," says Kevin Philip, managing director at Bel Air Investment Advisors. "With vaccines, boosters, treatments, and rising herd immunity, it seems more and more like a manageable virus in line with colds and flus than what it originally was."

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that Americans of all vaccination statuses should avoid embarking upon cruises did manage to dent that industry, though. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH (opens in new tab), -2.6%), Carnival (CCL (opens in new tab), -1.3%) and Royal Caribbean (RCL (opens in new tab), -1.1%) all finished in the red.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (-0.3% to 36,398) and S&P 500 (-0.3% to 4,778), poised for most of the day to set new highs, closed slightly lower, as did the Nasdaq Composite, which declined 0.2% to 15,741.

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And a reminder: We've got one more day of trading together in 2021, as the stock market is open for New Year's Eve (opens in new tab).

stock chart for 123021

(Image credit: YCharts)

Other news in the stock market today:

  • The small-cap Russell 2000 just barely slipped into negative territory, suffering a marginal decline to 2,248.
  • U.S. crude oil futures kept on climbing for the seventh consecutive session, adding 0.6% to $76.99 per barrel.
  • Gold futures recorded a modest 0.5% improvement to $1,1814.10 per ounce.
  • Bitcoin prices mirrored the major indexes, declining a slight 0.3% to $47,200.00. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m.)
  • So about that Biogen (BIIB (opens in new tab)) gain yesterday ... The biotechnology company soared by more than 9% on Wednesday in the wake of reports that South Korean tech conglomerate Samsung was in talks to buy it. However, BIIB shares dropped 7.1% on Thursday after Samsung denied that it was in any discussions with Biogen.
  • Virgin Galactic (SPCE (opens in new tab), +6.1%) jumped on Thursday amid the public-markets debut of its satellite-launching spinoff, Virgin Orbit (VORB (opens in new tab)). The company went public via special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) NextGen Acquisition Corp. II, and didn't receive much of a warm reception, declining 1.2%.

A Little Advice for New Investors (And Seasoned Ones, Too.)

We're about to enter 2022 with many more investors among our ranks than we started with in 2020 and even 2021. The past two years have seen millions of fresh faces open up brokerages, IRAs and 401(k)s amid 2020's dip-buying opportunities and a sudden realization of the wealth investing can build.

Welcome, to those of you who have joined the investing world … and brace yourselves.

"Those who began investing in the post-COVID environment have only seen an investing climate that was bolstered by unprecedented monetary and fiscal stimuli," says Interactive Brokers Chief Strategist Steve Sosnick, who expects more volatility in 2022 than we've seen since the end of the COVID bear market. "It is said that placid seas make lousy sailors, and these new investors have only sailed through the calm seas with a steady tailwind at their back.

"Many will have to learn whether to adapt their strategies in a period that is likely to be less favorable to the speculative tactics that have worked for so many."

We couldn't agree more – indeed, even veteran retail investors can have difficulties ignoring volatility. So while articles highlighting stock opportunities (opens in new tab) and fund picks (opens in new tab) can have plenty of utility for newer investors, it's just as important to learn how to steel yourself mentally for the long haul.

That's why we've recently reached out to several financial professionals for their advice on how beginners can adopt the right mentality for successful investing (opens in new tab). Check out their suggestions.

Kyle Woodley
Senior Investing Editor, Kiplinger.com

Kyle is senior investing editor for Kiplinger.com. As a writer and columnist, he also specializes in exchange-traded funds. He joined Kiplinger in September 2017 after spending six years at InvestorPlace.com, where he managed the editorial staff. His work has appeared in several outlets, including U.S. News & World Report and MSN Money, he has appeared as a guest on Fox Business Network and Money Radio, and he has been quoted in MarketWatch, Vice and Univision, among other outlets. He is a proud graduate of The Ohio State University, where he earned a BA in journalism.