LIVE MARKETS Travel and leisure stocks lead gains – Reuters

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TRAVEL AND LEISURE STOCKS LEAD GAINS (0849 GMT)

The pandemic is stealing the stage once again, with some positive vibes for risky assets driving European stocks higher after a study suggested reduced risks of hospitalization and severe disease with the Omicron variant.

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The STOXX 600 (.STOXX) is up 0.2%, with the travel and leisure stock index (.SXTP) — which is the most sensitive to the risk of pandemic restrictions — leading gains, up 1.9%.

Autos stock index (.SXAP) is up 0.8%, with Continental stocks (CONG.DE) among the best performers after the CEO Nikolai Setzer was quoted as saying the company could hit the upper end of its profit margin outlook in 2021.

Analysts remain cautious about the medium-term impact of Omicron as a potential reduction in hospitalisation needs to be balanced against the larger risk of infection.

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(Stefano Rebaudo)

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THE FAIRY TALE OF WALL STREET (0818 GMT)

Omicron spreads faster than Delta but is less likely to land you in hospital. The UK now has more than 100,000 cases of Omicron. China’s Xian city has locked down 13 million residents. But a third Astra Zeneca shot offers protection. And so on.

But… whatever. Markets seem to be reposing their trust in companies, politicians, central bankers and doctors to ensure Omicron doesn’t get in the way of fat investment returns and economic recovery. Wednesday’s U.S. data painted a picture of a highly resilient economy expanding at the fastest since 1984.

Even Japan upgraded growth projections for the next fiscal year starting in April to 3.2% versus the previous 2.2% forecast.

For U.S. equity investors at least the COVID years have been a time of scintillating returns; the S&P 500 (.SPX) is is up 25% in 2021 and 87% since end-2018. This year alone the biggest five lockdown beneficiarines have added almost $4 trillion in market capitalisation. Just to compare, the entire global equity complex is up $10 trillion.

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Markets seem to be winding down for the year however; stock futures are flatlining, the dollar is near one-week lows.

Even the Turkish lira is staying calm for now and its sovereign risk insurance costs have declined in the CDS market. They remain however some 400 basis points above similarly rated South Africa.

Key developments that should provide more direction to markets on Thursday:

– Russsian president Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference

-U.S. core PCE price index/durable goods/initial jobless claims/new home sales

-U.S. 5-year TIPS auction

(Sujata Rao)

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EUROPE IN THE BLACK, EYES OMICRON (0818 GMT)

European stock futures are in positive territory after hopeful developments about the Omicron variant in typically thin holiday season trading.

Research by London’s Imperial College said the risk of hospitalisation for patients with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is 40% to 45% lower than for patients with the Delta variant. However, the reductions in hospitalisation must be balanced against the larger risk of infection

Also, a batch of U.S. economic data released Wednesday suggested the economy would continue to expand in 2022.

All that is providing support to risk sentiment. One must recall however that the unpredictable path of the pandemic and its impact on the economy are bound to keep investors on edge well into next year.

(Stefano Rebaudo)

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