Stock index futures rose in early trading Tuesday despite the arrival of the latest Covid variant on U.S. shores and as the White House tightened travel restrictions.
The Biden administration reacted to the news that an omicron case had been reported in California by asking businesses to proceed with vaccination requirements, even though the administration’s mandate was halted in courts pending review. The White House also tightened travel rules, requiring inbound passengers to be tested within 24 hours prior to departure.
Futures contracts tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 281advanced 0.72%, while Nasdaq 100 futures added 0.4%.
Airline, casino and energy stocks led the gainers in premarket trading.
Dow component Boeing’s shares jumped 3.6%, cruise line Royal Caribbean was up 3.6% while MGM Resorts International moved 2.7% higher, with Covid-sensitive companies benefitting amid early evidence showing the new strain may be less severe than earlier versions.
“It feels as though the market was wondering when, not if, there was going to be this new variant on our shares,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities. “What will be more important to the market is what we hear over the next few weeks about the efficacy of our vaccines and therapeutics.”
During regular trading on Wednesday the Dow fell about 460 points, or 1.34%. Earlier in the session the 30-stock benchmark had advanced 521 points, or 1.5%. The S&P dipped 1.18%, giving back an earlier gain of about 1.9%. The Nasdaq Composite slid 1.83%, after earlier trading 1.8% higher.
Stocks had posted strong gains earlier in the session, but fell on news that the first omicron case had been reported in California.
“Investors are increasingly cautious about the Omicron variant as well as the likelihood of faster tapering,” TD Securities said in a note to clients.
Wednesday’s whipsaw continues a highly volatile streak for stocks as the market digests what the new variant means.
Travel-related stocks were especially hard hit as investors feared that the omicron variant could lead to stricter travel requirements. Cruise companies, airlines and hotel stocks all finished the session deeply in the red.
“We’ve seen this movie before and Wall Street will likely remain COVID-variant headline driven until a clear assessment over this wave can be made,” said Ed Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda. “The next couple of weeks will likely see risk appetite take a cue from incremental Omicron updates, supply chain issues, and every inflation reading,” he added.
On the data front, weekly initial jobless claims numbers will be released Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists are expecting a print of 240,000, according to estimates from Dow Jones. The prior reading showed 199,000 first-time filers, which was the lowest since November 1969. The November jobs report will be released on Friday.
Thursday’s reading follows a better-than-expected ADP report on Wednesday. Private payrolls increased by 534,000 in November, ahead of the expected 506,000.
While the bulk of the third-quarter earnings season is over, there are still some companies posting quarterly results. Dollar General, Kroger and Signet Jewelers report on Thursday before the opening bell. Ulta Beauty, Marvell Technology and Ollie’s Bargain Outlet are among the names on deck for after the market closes.