LONDON: World stock markets advanced on Thursday (Dec 23) on fading fears over both the Omicron coronavirus variant and elevated inflationary pressures, dealers said.

Natural gas prices continued to fall sharply from record peaks that were struck earlier this week, but crude oil edged upwards.

The upbeat pre-holiday mood was helped by two preliminary studies from Britain indicating Omicron infections were less likely to result in hospitalisation compared with the Delta variant, confirming a trend first identified in South Africa.

Global equities climbed on “optimism that Omicron could lead to fewer hospitalisations than Delta”, noted Interactive Investor analyst Victoria Scholar.

The cautious optimism was also lifted by news that the US Food and Drug Administration had authorised Pfizer’s anti-COVID-19 pill, providing fresh tools to battle the disease.

Sentiment won another shot in the arm after Britain’s AstraZeneca revealed that the third, or booster, dose of its COVID-19 vaccine “significantly” lifted antibody levels against the Omicron strain in a laboratory study.

New cases of the highly mutated Omicron strain continued to soar, but market watchers are becoming more confident the health effects will be milder than with earlier variants.

The rebound from Monday’s sharp sell-off over Omicron fears “doesn’t mean the market isn’t concerned about Omicron”, said market analyst Patrick J O’Hare.

“But it does suggest the market isn’t overly concerned about Omicron doing any extended economic damage.”

Data released Wednesday showed US consumers remained upbeat about the economy despite the rise of the fast-spreading Omicron strain.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index jumped nearly four points to 115.8 compared to the prior month.

Sentiment was also boosted by revised data from the US Commerce Department showing GDP expanded at a faster annual rate of 2.3 per cent in the third quarter, up from earlier estimates of 2.1 per cent.

The positive mood spilled over into Asia Thursday, with Tokyo adding 0.8 per cent.

Even a COVID-19 lockdown in the Chinese city of Xi’an failed to dampen enthusiasm, with Shanghai closing 0.6 per cent higher and Hong Kong up 0.4 per cent.

Data released on Thursday morning showed the US economy continues to motor along, with personal income and spending rising, as did orders for durable goods. First-time unemployment claims remained at pre-pandemic levels.

Thursday is the last trading day before Christmas for Wall Street, as it is for the Frankfurt stock exchange. Both London and Paris are open for half of a day of trading on Friday.

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