US markets boosted by economy, Covid news

US stock markets closed higher on Wednesday in a broad rally after upbeat economic data and hopeful developments about the severity of the Omicron coronavirus variant that is sweeping the world.

Stocks gained for a second straight session as volatility has ratcheted up in the last month of 2021 following the arrival of Omicron and an otherwise strong year for equities.

A South African study suggested reduced risks of hospitalization and severe disease in people infected with the Omicron variant versus the Delta one, but World Health Organization officials cautioned that it was too soon to draw firm conclusions.

“We are still struggling for direction in the face of the Omicron outbreak, but in the past few days … more and more evidence is building that the strain is potentially less severe than prior strains, specifically Delta, which bodes well for economic momentum in 2022,” said Mike Stritch, chief investment officer at BMO Wealth Management.

The S&P 500 gained 1.0 percent to end at 4,696, the Nasdaq Composite gained 1.2 percent to 15,521, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.7 percent to 35,753.

Tesla shares rose, boosting the S&P 500 and Nasdaq. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said in an interview he has sold “enough stock” following several weeks of share sales by the billionaire.

US consumer confidence improved further in December, suggesting the economy would continue to expand in 2022. The survey from the Conference Board showed more consumers planned to buy a house and big-ticket items such as motor vehicles and major household appliances as well as go on vacation over the next six months.

Other reports showed US home sales increased for a third straight month in November, and that gross domestic product increased at a 2.3 percent annualised rate in the July-September quarter, revised up from the 2.1 percent rate estimated last month.

In another encouraging development against the pandemic, the US authorized Pfizer’s oral antiviral Covid-19 pill for at-risk people aged 12 and above, making it the first at-home treatment for the coronavirus. (Reuters)