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Stock market news live updates: Stock rally pauses to close lower after S&P and Dow set records

In an abrupt reversal, markets closed down on Thursday in the penultimate session of 2021 as a thinly-traded last week of the year for Wall Street comes to a close.

Investors mulled fresh jobs data out of Washington and rising cases of COVID-19 across the globe, which hit a record earlier this week in the latest wave of the virus, driven by the Omicron variant. Studies have shown that the strain, though more transmissible than previous ones, may cause milder disease and is less likely to lead to hospitalizations.

The developments on Omicron have helped markets largely shake off earlier concerns after a volatile December. Instead, inflation and potential moves by the Federal Reserve to mitigate surging prices, are expected to be front-and-center for investors heading into the new year.

“What’s not changed is the focus on inflation, that’s the biggest risk,” Brigg Macadam Founding Partner Greg Swenson told Yahoo Finance Live.

“I’m not worried about COVID at this point,” he said. “I think we’re past the worst phase of that, but we have inflation now.”

With inflationary pressures encouraging a more hawkish Federal Reserve, the composition of the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee will play a key role in dictating the pace of interest rate hikes in 2022. The Biden administration is set to name its picks for three vacant seats on the central banks role Board of Governors next year.

Meanwhile, on the jobs front, the Labor Department released its latest report on initial and continuing jobless claims. First-time unemployment filings fell further from last week’s reading, coming in at 198,000 — below the expected 206,000. Earlier in December, jobless claims fell to 188,000 — its lowest level since 1969.

The claims, which fell by 8,000 from the previous week’s reading, mark the second lowest print during the pandemic and signal continued recovery in the labor market as high demand for workers pours into the new year.

While markets mostly powered on in Thursday’s session, travel stocks were impacted by virus-related developments.

JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU) said it expects to cut 1,280 flights, scaling down its schedule due to a surge in personnel who have fallen sick. The company’s stock closed down -0.97% in early afternoon trading to $14.24 per share. Delta Air Lines (DAL) reported cancellations of an additional 250 flights on Wednesday after thousands of halted and delayed flights by major airlines during the Christmas weekend. Airline stocks have taken a hit all week amid growing flight disruptions caused by the latest virus wave and winter weather.

Delta ended Thursday’s session -0.31% at $39.04 and American Airlines (AAL) closed up 0.11% to $18.07 per share. United Airlines (UAL) saw the session end 0.68% lower at $44.13.

“It’s a controlled meltdown, put it that way,” Boyd Group International president Mike Boyd told Yahoo Finance. Airlines “know where they’re going to be short pretty much ahead of time, and then they have to adjust for it.”

Cruise line operators also edged lower after the CDC advised people to avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status, following an increase in onboard COVID-19 cases. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) shed 2.46% to $21.05 per share. Carnival Corp. (CCL) declined 1.25% to close at $20.53 a piece, and Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) ended down 1.09% to $77.37.

In a regulatory filing on Thursday, Samsung BioLogics denied earlier reports that Samsung Group was in talks to acquire U.S. drugmaker Biogen Inc. (BIIB), which was in the spotlight on Wednesday after shares of the drugmaker surged during intraday trading following a report by the Korea Economic Daily, which cited investment banking sources. The report said Biogen approached Samsung to buy its shares in a deal that could be valued at more than $42 billion.

Biogen’s stock was down 7.09% to $240.00 per share at the end of trading.

4:01 p.m. ET: Markets close in the red

Here were the main moves in markets at close:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): -14.25 (-0.30%) to 4,778.81

  • Dow (^DJI): -90.16 (-0.25%) to 36,398.47

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): -24.65 (-0.16%) to 15,741.56

  • Crude (CL=F): -$0.02 (-0.03%) to $76.54 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): $11.80 ( 0.65%) to $1,817.60 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -2.8 bps to yield 1.5150%

3:11 p.m. ET: Small-caps join in on rally, pushing Russell 2000 ahead

The small-cap Russell 2000 index (^RUT) closed down 0.02% at 2,248.79 after hovering near its highest level since December 8 during intraday trading, according to Bloomberg data.

Morningstar data showed the top-performing actively managed U.S. equity funds of 2021 were predominantly focused on small-cap stocks as a strategy. 

Some small-cap companies, which have total market values of about $300 million to $2 billion, have recently fared well amid bets on cyclical stocks that were bolstered by economic recovery from the pandemic. 

1:05 p.m. ET: FDA poised to OK boosters for ages 12-15

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to authorize booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds, according to a report from the New York Times.

U.S. regulators are also likely to reduce the time frame for booster eligibility to allow both adolescents and adults get an extra shot of Pfizer’s vaccine five months after receiving a second dose instead of the current period of six months, the New York Times said.

Shares of Pfizer (PFE) were up just shy of 1% to $58.15 per share.

12:45 p.m. ET: Cruise line stocks decline after new CDC recommendation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised people to avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status, following an increase in onboard COVID-19 cases.

Cruise ship operators ticked down in midday trading, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) shed 1.85% to $21.18 per share.

Carnival Corp. (CCL) declined 0.84% to trade at $20.61 a piece, and Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) traded down 0.55% to $77.79.

12:39 p.m. ET: Markets power on amid lightly-traded week

Here were the main moves in markets as of 12:39 p.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): 6.08 ( 0.13%) to 4,799.14

  • Dow (^DJI): 9.20 ( 0.03%) to 36,497.83

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): 86.10 ( 0.55%) to 15,852.32

  • Crude (CL=F): $0.33 ( 0.43%) to $76.89 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): $8.50 ( 0.47%) to $1,814.30 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -2.1 bps to yield 1.5220%

12:20 p.m. ET: JetBlue axes 1,280 January flights

JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU) is expected to cut 1,280 flights, scaling down its schedule due to a surge in personnel who have fallen sick from COVID-19. The company’s shares traded at $14.43 a piece in the midday session, up by a modest 0.31%.

The airline will allow customers with any type of ticket to change or cancel their travel through January. JetBlue which, anticipated to fly 6,204 flights and offer nearly one million seats in January before the cuts, will now see fewer flights in the first month of 2022 than it did in December, which had 5,538 flights and 832,942 seats scheduled.

Airline stocks have taken a hit all week amid growing flight disruptions caused by rising COVID-19 cases and winter weather.

“It’s a controlled meltdown, put it that way,” Boyd Group International president Mike Boyd told Yahoo Finance. Airlines “know where they’re going to be short pretty much ahead of time, and then they have to adjust for it.”

9:31 a.m. ET: Stocks charge ahead to extend gains

Here were the main moves in markets at open:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): 5.93 ( 0.12%) to 4,798.99

  • Dow (^DJI): 103.36 ( 0.28%) to 36,591.99

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): -8.96 (-0.06%) to 15,757.26

  • Crude (CL=F): $0.23 ( 0.30%) to $76.79 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): -$2.50 (-0.14%) to $1,803.30 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -1.6 bps to yield 1.5270%

8:50 a.m. ET: Tesla issues recalls on Model 3 and Model S cars

Tesla Inc (TSLA) has recalled more than 475,000 Model 3 and Model S electric cars, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The recall was attributed to two safety-related concerns, including trunk issues with the vehicles and for Model 3s, rearview cameras mounted on these units that might malfunction.

Shares of Tesla fell as much as 2.2% during Wednesday trading after CEO Elon Musk sold another $1 billion of company stock.

8:30 a.m. ET: Jobless claims hover near pre-pandemic lows

The Labor Department released its latest report on initial and continuing jobless claims. First-time unemployment filings fell further from last week’s reading, coming in at 198,000 — below the expected 206,000. Earlier in December, jobless claims fell to — 188,000 its lowest level since 1969. 

Continuing claims for the week ended Dec. 18 came in at 1.716 million, also beating expectations of 1.875 million and below the prior week.

7:10a.m. ET: Futures remain muted ahead of trading day

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 8.50 points ( 0.15%), to 4,793.00

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 50.00 ( 0.14%), to 36,431.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 0.39 points ( 0.24%) to 16,529

6:01 p.m. Wednesday ET: Contracts on the S&P, Dow, and Nasdaq open sideways

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 0.50 points ( 0.01%), to 4,785.00

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 3.00 ( 0.01%), to 36,384.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): -0.25 points (0.00%) to 16,490.25

Alexandra Semenova is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alexandraandnyc

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