In an abrupt reversal, markets closed down on Thursday in the penultimate session of 2021 as a thinly-traded last week of the year for Wall Street comes to a close.
Investors mulled fresh jobs data out of Washington and rising cases of COVID-19 across the globe, which hit a record earlier this week in the latest wave of the virus, driven by the Omicron variant. Studies have shown that the strain, though more transmissible than previous ones, may cause milder disease and is less likely to lead to hospitalizations.
The developments on Omicron have helped markets largely shake off earlier concerns after a volatile December. Instead, inflation and potential moves by the Federal Reserve to mitigate surging prices, are expected to be front-and-center for investors heading into the new year.
“What’s not changed is the focus on inflation, that’s the biggest risk,” Brigg Macadam Founding Partner Greg Swenson told Yahoo Finance Live.
“I’m not worried about COVID at this point,” he said. “I think we’re past the worst phase of that, but we have inflation now.”
With inflationary pressures encouraging a more hawkish Federal Reserve, the composition of the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee will play a key role in dictating the pace of interest rate hikes in 2022. The Biden administration is set to name its picks for three vacant seats on the central banks role Board of Governors next year.
Meanwhile, on the jobs front, the Labor Department released its latest report on initial and continuing jobless claims. First-time unemployment filings fell further from last week’s reading, coming in at 198,000 — below the expected 206,000. Earlier in December, jobless claims fell to 188,000 — its lowest level since 1969.
The claims, which fell by 8,000 from the previous week’s reading, mark the second lowest print during the pandemic and signal continued recovery in the labor market as high demand for workers pours into the new year.
While markets mostly powered on in Thursday’s session, travel stocks were impacted by virus-related developments.