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‘Omi-whatever’: variant grip on stocks lasted just two weeks

It’s almost as if Omicron never happened.
Image: Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg

Less than two weeks after the spread of a new coronavirus variant sent ripples through global stock markets, it’s almost as if Omicron never happened.

Equities have quickly rebounded from their recent slump, with the S&P 500 index closing on Tuesday at its highest level since November 24, the last trading day before scientists warned about a potentially more transmissible strain of the virus. In Europe, the benchmark Stoxx 600 has also nearly recovered losses triggered by the Omicron variant scare.

European stocks and US futures contracts briefly spiked on Wednesday after Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said initial lab studies show a third dose of their Covid-19 vaccine neutralises Omicron.

More data from South Africa suggesting symptoms are mild had already given a green light for fast-money “to pile back into the buy everything global recovery trade,” Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at Oanda, wrote in a note entitled “Omi-whatever.”

News of the new variant initially had a dramatic effect, prompting the biggest one-day drop since February for the S&P 500 index and wiping more than a half-trillion euros in market value from the main European benchmark. Still, strategists remained largely sanguine and – in the absence of alarming news about the new strain – investors rushed to buy the dip, with Bank of America Corp. reporting that clients last week pumped the most money into stocks since 2017.

While epidemiologists are still cautious, preliminary evidence suggests that booster shots can offer protection, while there’s little appetite for governments on either side of the Atlantic to impose the kind of strict lockdowns seen before vaccines were widely available.

To be sure, even if Omicron’s impact on markets proves short-lived, the slump seen in the past two weeks serves as a reminder that virus-induced volatility is not over yet.

Prior to their brief spike, European stocks had fallen to a session low after a Financial Times report said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was set to announce fresh restrictions in England.

“The most striking feature to me is how the recovery time around these events continues to shorten,” said Carl Dooley, head of European trading at Cowen. “It even surprises the bulls, and has been excruciating for the bears.”

© 2021 Bloomberg

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