A muted showing for growth stocks dampened the major equity indexes while defensive sectors plus health care held up better in quiet trading. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.3 percent, the S&P 500 firmed 0.1 percent and the NASDAQ declined 0.1 percent.
Activity was limited and consolidative as gains in growth/technology stocks on Monday gave way to weakness Tuesday and Wednesday, and value stocks, including industrials and materials, saw slightly better buying Wednesday. Defensive sectors including utilities and real estate fared best. Long-end US Treasury yields jumped but the rise appeared exaggerated by thin conditions.
Investors remained focused on surging global Omicron cases but sentiment improved headed into yearend as hospitalization rates remained relatively low. Many investors see the Omicron variant as precursor to a less disruptive and threatening version of the pandemic.
Among companies in focus, Biogen rose 9.5 percent on reports Samsung is in talks to acquire the US biotech. On the downside, Advanced Micro Devices declined 3.2 percent and Nvidia lost 1.1 percent as the two microchip leaders corrected gains from early in the week.
These price data reflect observations at 4:00 PM US ET: Dated Brent spot crude oil rose 12 cents to US$79.16 while spot gold fell US$1.40 to US$1,804.99. The US dollar fell vs. most major currencies. Yields on the US Treasury 30-year bond rose 6 basis points at 1.96 percent and the 10-year note rose 7 basis points at 1.55 percent.
Equities were mostly lower with tech stocks leading the declines. Activity was mixed in holiday-thinned conditions. The Europe-wide STOXX 600 eased 0.1 percent, the German DAX slipped 0.7 percent, the French CAC declined 0.3 percent and the UK FTSE 100 rose 0.7 percent.
UK markets outperformed Wednesday after two days of holidays as the market caught up with the early-week uptick elsewhere. Sentiment around the coronavirus appears divided, with bulls encouraged by more reports suggesting the Omicron variant is relatively mild and may boost immunity to other strains, while bears focused on uncertainty over fallout from the sheer volume of Omicron cases given its remarkably rapid spread.
Among sectors, tech, autos & parts, travel & leisure, and oil & gas stocks lagged. Holding up best were retail, media, basic resources, and construction & materials.
Equities mostly retreated with a selloff in US tech stocks spilling over to Asia and Chinese tech stocks under pressure again. Markets appeared in consolidative mode without much direction headed into year end.
Japanese equities saw profit-taking after Tuesday's gains, plus selling after the Japanese ex-dividend date. The Nikkei 225 was down 0.6 percent and the Topix off 0.3 percent. Tech stocks, including big chipmakers, fell back after outperforming a day earlier.
China's CSI 300 index dropped 1.5 percent and the Shanghai composite index declined 0.9 percent with weakness centered in consumer staples, including alcohol stocks. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index slipped 0.8 percent as health care stocks retreated and tech stocks suffered amid uncertainty over China's new rules governing overseas listings.
South Korea's KOSPI lost 0.9 percent and Taiwan's Taiex firmed 0.3 percent as technology stocks extended the week's gains.
Australia's All Ordinaries index rose 1.2 percent as markets caught up with gains elsewhere in the region while Sydney markets were on two days of post-Christmas holidays. Risk appetite has improved based on the view that the Omicron variant, while much more transmissible, is less likely to cause severe illness. Gains were across the board with consumer staples and discretionary stocks leading, along with utilities and real estate.
In Asia/Pacific, South Korean industrial production and retail sales reports are scheduled for release. In Europe, the KOF Swiss leading indicator report is scheduled. In North America, US jobless claims and Chicago PMI reports are on tap.