Global stock markets and oil prices tumbled Friday after South Africa identified a new, potentially fast-spreading coronavirus variant and the European Union proposed suspending air travel from the region.
The 27-member EU proposed a mass travel suspension to member governments after South Africa said the so-called Nu variant was spreading in its most populous province.
Britain promptly banned flights from South Africa and five nearby countries. Austria imposed a 10-day lockdown while Italy restricted activity by unvaccinated people. Americans were advised by their government to avoid Germany and Denmark. Belgium and Israel have already reported a handful of people who have tested positive to the new variant, and the slew of data points has added up to a flurry of uncertainty.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the TSX Composite Index were sharply down in premarket trading and held those losses into the trading day. Nearing midday, all three were down by about two per cent.
“This news has completely overshadowed early anecdotal reports of strong in-person and online traffic for Black Friday sales,” said Colin Cieszynski with SIA Wealth Management in Toronto.
Friday would normally be a quiet day on U.S. stock markets because of the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, as stock markets in New York are scheduled to close at 1 p.m.
Oil and travel companies hit hardest
That thin trading could potentially make market anxieties worse as there is a smaller pool of buyers and sellers available to offset outliers.
“What you’re seeing is the absence of a lot of active managers in the U.S. and a lot of concerned panic selling … around the world,” said Dennis Mitchell, CEO of Starlight Capital, in an interview.
The VIX — which is known as Wall Street’s “fear index” because it measures volatility — spiked by more than 40 per cent to above 26 points. That’s its highest level since January 2021, before vaccination campaigns started to ramp up.
Anything related to energy or travel and tourism is being hit especially hard as investors digest the prospect of another round of limitations on international travel.
The North American benchmark oil price known as West Texas Intermediate lost more than $9 US, or more than 12 per cent, to trade just below $70 US a barrel.
Jeremy McCrea, managing director at Raymond James Energy Research, says while the anxiety is real, some of the oil selling is coming from traders just locking in profits from the recent run while they can.
“Given how much oil prices have moved up … there’s a lot of profit taking, a lot of speculators saying, ‘I’m not quite sure what this really means,’ ” he said in an interview.
“Wait a couple of weeks until we get a better idea of what this actually means.”
McCrea said the oil market has just had an especially volatile few weeks, first with OPEC trying to ratchet prices higher by slowing production increase, then by the Biden administration releasing millions of barrels to have the opposite effect.
With fears now of a new variant that could curb global demand for oil, he said it shows there are “still a lot of big factors that can shift prices here quite a bit.”
Air Canada shares lost more than eight per cent while those of cruise line Carnival lost 11. Hotel chains Hilton and Marriott were both down by more than eight per cent.
“These announcements have sparked a sell-off in travel-related stocks (airlines, cruise lines, hotels etc.) and has sparked a rally in stay-at-home and vaccine stocks,” Cieszynski said.
Pfizer shares rose nearly seven per cent while Moderna shares jumped more than 22 per cent.
“Today’s price action and abrupt moves were a good reminder of a need to avoid virus complacency into 2022,” currency analyst Audrey Childe-Freeman with Bloomberg Intelligence said in a note to clients.
Lisa Kramer, a professor of finance at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, says investors are reacting with a fear similar to what happened at the start of the pandemic.
“It isn’t uncommon when we have dramatic news come out for some people to overreact,” she said in an interview. “And it doesn’t take a lot of people panicking for markets to react strongly.”
Bitcoin slumps, too
Cryptocurrencies sold off heavily as investors ran toward things like gold, bonds and the U.S. dollar that are perceived to be safer stores of value.
“In times like this, we get a true sense of what investors consider to be real, reliable safe havens and bitcoin is off eight per cent today, which has delivered a fatal blow to its safe-haven credentials, putting an end to another crypto myth that has surfaced over the years despite there being zero evidence to back it up,” analyst Craig Erlam with foreign exchange firm Oanda said.
Apple poised as Peloton's saviour among news the company is pausing equipment production – MobileSyrup
A recent report from CNBC regarding Peloton’s manufacturing rate helped plummet the company’s stock by 24 percent in a single day.
The media outlet reports the exercise bike manufacturer has temporarily halted production of its fitness products because of a drop in consumer demand.
Internal documents revealed bike productions will pause in February and March. Production of Bike+ was halted back in December and won’t resume until June. The Tread treadmill won’t start manufacturing again for six weeks until February. Further, production of Tread+ was previously halted and likely won’t resume this year.
This fueled ongoing rumours surrounding the fitness company’s production problems, with Insider reporting Peloton will lay off 41 percent of its staff in its sales and marketing departments.
Once noted as the darling of connected exercise equipment, the company is now struggling. CNBC says that Peloton overestimated how many people would buy its products after a jump in sales tied to at-home workouts during the pandemic.
Now experts are saying the only way to save the Peloton is if tech giant Apple purchases it. Financial advice publication, The Motley Fool, reports Apple has the cash to spare and “wants to be a force in health and wellness.” However, the article also notes a possible acquisition would “benefit Peloton far more than it would Apple,” given the fitness company’s smaller “market opportunity.”
Peloton CEO John Foley has denied that production is slowing or halted and says media reports are “incomplete and out of context.”
“Rumors that we are halting all production of bikes and Treads are false,” Foley wrote in a letter of response.
However, he did acknowledge layoffs may soon be on the horizon.
“We now need to evaluate our [organizational] structure and size of our team, with the utmost care and compassion. And we are still in the process of considering all options as part of our efforts to make our business more flexible,” he wrote.
Image credit: Shutterstock
Latest research says combination of throat and nose swabs provides better COVID-19 rapid test results: Nova Scotia Health – CTV News Atlantic
In a Canadian first, Nova Scotia researchers say COVID-19 rapid tests that include both throat and nose swabs provide greater accuracy in detecting the virus.
Up until now, the instructions provided by the manufacture has been for nasal swab only.
Now, based on research led by Nova Scotia Health’s microbiology team, public health is recommending Nova Scotians using rapid tests swab both their throat and nose when collecting their sample.
In a release Friday, Nova Scotia Health said its working to update the current testing instructions that people receive when they pick up a rapid test.
The research was prompted by public discussion theorizing that a combined sample may produce more accurate results.
Speaking to CTV Thursday, Dr. Todd Hatchette, the chief of the province’s Division of Microbiology, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, said researchers found using a single swab on a person’s throat first, and then in both nostrils is more effective at detecting Omicron than doing either site alone.
“When we tested just over 1,500 people, we found that either the nose or the throat both detected about 60 per cent of people, but if you did a combined nose / throat, it detected over 82 per cent of people,” said Hatchette.
The research started about a week ago. Officials at the microbiology lab worked with volunteers at the Halifax Convention Centre testing site to collect the data.
In Friday’s release, Nova Scotia Health says collaboration with volunteer-based community rapid testing sites was key to the project’s success and allowed the project to rapidly answer a question that many jurisdictions across the country have been asking.
The investigation compared results of a common rapid take-home test using three sample sites: nasal swab; throat swab and; combined nasal/throat, the release said. All results were confirmed with PCR testing. Compared to PCR test results, samples from nasal or throat swabs each detected 64.5 per cent of cases; however, combining the nose and throat swabs increased sensitivity to 88.7 per cent.
This research project has been submitted for publication.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, speaking Friday from Ottawa, welcomed the Nova Scotia swab study.
“I’ve asked our laboratory network, our laboratory experts, to take that into account and see whether we can provide some sort of guidance,” Tam said. “But, of course, I think we’ve been discovering that the Omicron variant may be behaving a bit differently to the previous variants, so this approach, this swabbing, might be useful.”
One thing to note, public health is advising that if only one location of the sample is being used, it should be the nasal swab, as the throat swab alone is not as effective as the nasal swab.
Nova Scotia is the first to report research results supporting a combined throat/nose collection method for self-administered rapid antigen tests.
Gold price next week: a breakout or a sideways trap? All eyes on hawkish Fed and stocks volatility – analysts – Kitco NEWS
(Kitco News) The gold market surprised with a breakout above $1,830 an ounce this week. And analysts say next week will be pivotal in whether gold breaks out or gets stuck in the sideways price action again.
In an unexpected move, the precious metal surged to two-month highs this week, with investors flocking to safe havens as volatility rocked the equity markets ahead of the Federal Reserve meeting next week.
With stocks and the crypto space selling off, money has to go somewhere, RJO Futures senior market strategist Frank Cholly told Kitco News.
“Gold rallied this week due to all the weakness in the equity market. Bitcoin is down pretty good too,” Cholly said. “We have a bottom in gold. The question is, are we going to go lower and stay sideways or climb towards $1,900. The precious metal needs another close above $1,830. It’s critical to hold that level before a move above $1,850.”
The move in gold did surprise some analysts because of how swift it was, said Gainesville Coins precious metals expert Everett Millman.
“The gold market has been going sideways for several months. To see a breakout in either direction was a bit surprising. Coming into this week, sentiment in the gold market was very negative. Many big banks were projecting the gold price to go down. This ended up playing in gold’s favor as negative sentiment set us up for a reversion in another direction,” Millman said.
Also, rising oil prices and strong retail demand have contributed to higher price levels in gold. “Higher oil does make it more expensive to get gold out of the ground. We could see constraints in the gold supply being mined. Plus, the real demand for gold is still strong. The U.S. Mint saw 12-year highs in gold sales, while the Perth Mint saw 10-year highs. Average retail investors are still buying gold at the fastest pace in ten years,” Millman added.
All eyes are on how markets will react to the Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting, scheduled for Wednesday. Cholly estimates to see a steeper sell-off in U.S. equities as the central bank maintains the same level of hawkishness.
“We could go through a more meaningful correction in equities. We’ll have more evidence of the Fed’s direction. And the stock market likes to throw tantrums to get the Fed’s attention. Next week, gold’s strength will hinge on equities moving lower and reallocation of money into precious metals. Silver may even become the leader as we move forward,” Cholly pointed out.
If gold does break above $1,850, it opens the door for $1,870-80 and eventually $1,900, he added.
Fed in focus
The Fed meeting, which will be followed by the central bank Chair Jerome Powell’s press conference, is the biggest macro event next week.
Analysts expect to get more hawkish clues in terms of the first rate hike in March and more clarity around the potential balance sheet runoff. Currently, markets are pricing in four rate hikes in 2022.
“With the Omicron wave now past its peak nationally, there is little to hold the Fed back, particularly if next week brings news of a further acceleration in wage growth,” said Capital Economics chief North America economist Paul Ashworth. “A dissenting vote, to raise rates immediately, from one of the hawkish regional Fed Presidents – who will be voting as part of the annual rotation – could also add fuel to the recent bond market sell-off.”
There is also a risk that the Fed could get even more hawkish by announcing the completion of the tapering process immediately, said ING chief international economist James Knightley.
“The Federal Reserve meeting will be the main focus, and we strongly suspect that we could see the announcement of the ending of QE asset purchases brought forward from the mid-March end-point currently signaled, to an immediate cessation, “Knightley wrote. “In an environment where the economy has fully recovered the lost output from the pandemic, where unemployment is back below 4% and where inflation is at near 40-year highs, it seems strange to say the least for them to continue stimulating the economy.”
Other key data releases to keep an eye on will be Tuesday’s CB consumer confidence, Thursday’s Q4 GDP number, jobless claims and durable goods orders, as well as Friday’s PCE price index.
“We expect to learn that fourth-quarter GDP growth was a slightly disappointing 4.0% annualized. But markets may focus more on the Employment Cost Index (ECI). Private wage growth hit 4.6% y/y in the third quarter and could have climbed as high 5% in the fourth, which would make a March rate hike a near-certainty,” Ashworth noted.
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