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Stock markets rally on hopes about Omicron variant as crude oil prices climb


TORONTO — Canada's main stock index surged as reassurances about the latest COVID-19 variant powered the energy sector higher and prompted a broad-based rally.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed up 227.83 points to 20,861.10.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 646.95 points or 1.9 per cent at 35,227.03. The S&P 500 index was up 53.24 points at 4,591.67, while the Nasdaq composite was up 139.68 points at 15,225.15. 

The gains, which followed last week's selloff, were largely prompted by reassuring comments about the Omicron variant, said Angelo Kourkafas, investment strategist at Edward Jones. 

He pointed specifically to White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that data shows hospitals aren't overwhelmed by the latest wave of COVID cases in South Africa and reports suggest the cases from the variant are relatively mild.

"It's going to take a while longer to figure out what's the impact of the Omicron variant, but so far I think that was the positive commentary that came out on Sunday night that provides some relief," he said in an interview.

Nonetheless, Kourkafas said volatility remains elevated because there are still many unknowns about the variant.

The S&P 500 moved up or down by more than one per cent in six of the last trading sessions, including Monday.

"Clearly the headlines are moving equity prices today, but if we look at under the surface what we are observing is that for today stocks that are linked to the economic reopening are outperforming."

U.S. airlines, travel related stocks are energy were up while tech stocks continued to underperform.

Air Canada shares rose 3.3 per cent to help industrials, while a 4.9 per cent gain in crude oil prices pushed the energy sector up 2.6 per cent.

The January crude oil contract was up US$3.23 at US$69.49 per barrel and the January natural gas contract was down 47.5 cents at nearly US$3.66 per mmBTU. 

Shares of Crescent Point Energy Corp. surged 7.9 per cent after the Calgary company raised its quarterly dividend and increased its production guidance for next year.

The Canadian dollar traded for 78.25 cents US compared with 78.05 cents US on Friday. 

All 11 major sectors on the TSX were higher, with nine increasing by at least one per cent. Consumer discretionary rose 2.2 per cent higher while health care was 1.9 per cent higher.

Materials was up 1.1 per cent on strong copper prices.

However, gold prices fell as the 10-year bond yield increased and upcoming central bank meetings will likely lay out interest rate hike plans in 2022.

The February gold contract was down US$4.40 at US$1,779.50 an ounce and the March copper contract was up 7.1 cents at almost US$4.34 a pound. 

The Bank of Canada is expected to say Wednesday it sees rates beginning to rise in the first quarter because of improvements in the labour market and inflation readings coming in above three per cent for seven months. That would be sooner than it has previously signalled.

Kourkafas says expectations call for five rate hikes over the next 12 months, something he labels a bit aggressive.

In the U.S., the Federal Reserve could double the pace of bond tapering and move up interest rate increases to mid 2022.

"Right now the market is pricing in we're going to see between two to three rate hikes from the Fed next year."

Technology was one of the weaker sectors in the U.S. It gained 1.5 per cent in Canada with shares of Dye & Durham Ltd. climbing 9.3 per cent as it announced a deal to buy Telus' financial solutions business for $500 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2021. 

Companies in this story: (TSX:DND, TSX:CPG, TSX:AC, TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X) 

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press

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