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Reversal on Omicron Prospects Send Markets Down

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Pre-market futures are back down again this morning, both as the indexes look to find equilibrium while dealing with a new, highly infectious variant of Covid-19, Omicron, as well as a big shift in outlook from the CEO of one of the main Covid vaccine drug-makers. Moderna’s (MRNA - Free Report) Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times that the scientists he’s been talking to say fighting Omicron is “not going to be good.” This is a major reversal from what Bancel said previously: that Moderna would be up with a new vaccine trial in two months, suggesting he and his scientists already knew what they were up against.

As a result, market indexes are giving back much of what they made Monday, which was a good snap-back from the 2%+ sell-off the markets saw in the half-day of trading last Friday: the Dow is -280 points at this hour, the S&P 500 is -30 and the Nasdaq is -40 points. So we’re back to worrying about the new Covid variant, which may be more difficult to defeat, after all.

The real problem for the market is that we still don’t know much about Omicron, and not knowing is never something market participants celebrate. The mutations on the new variant are numerous — the spike proteins may be unrecognizable to the vaccines and perhaps the anti-virals currently used to treat Covid — and until adequate studies bring forth actionable data, we’ll remain somewhat in the dark.

Even worse, as long as large swaths of the global population continue to go on without access to vaccines or anti-virals, especially in lower-income countries and regions, we can expect further mutations of the coronavirus to continue finding ways to survive in the present-day and future. Meanwhile, Moderna shares are down -4% in early trading after jumping 12% Monday on a positive initial reaction from the company’s CEO on Omicron.

Elsewhere, the Case-Shiller Home Price Index was released this morning for the month of September. We’ve seen plenty of economic updates reported for October and even November so far, but this metric takes a look in the rearview a bit: +19.5% year-over-year housing price growth is down 30 basis points from the previous month, but still illustrates healthy pricing for home sellers. September was the month when many economic indicators took a powder; here they remain relatively robust.

The 10-city report grew +17.8% year over year — down 0.8% from August — while the 20-city reached +19.1% — down half a precent from the previous month. Phoenix, Tampa and Miami were the top gainers at +33.1%, +27.7% and +25.2%, respectively, although even the weaker performers — Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington DC — came through with gains above +10% year over year.

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