U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims; Chicago Business Barometer - ISM-Chicago Business Survey - Chicago PMI.
Stock futures held steady as investors awaited data that will give an indication of whether the recent uptick in Covid-19 infections is hurting the labor market.
Stocks typically rise during the last five trading days of the year and the first two trading days of the new year-a phenomenon known as the "Santa Claus rally."
Since 1950, the S&P 500 has ended higher about 77% of the time during the period, according to Dow Jones Market Data, with an average gain of 1.3%.
Despite Covid-19 cases hitting a record in the U.S., some investors expect that high vaccination rates and signs of milder symptoms caused by the Omicron variant mean the economy will avoid a repeat of the disruption seen at the start of the pandemic. Many decision makers are more focused on hospitalizations than cases and are seeking to avoid stricter measures.
Lower-than-average trading volumes, with many investors off for the holiday season, could cause choppy trading or outsize moves in markets.
"On the equity side, we're grinding higher," said Des Lawrence, a senior investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors. "It looks like markets are a little bit more stable but liquidity is very thin at the moment, volumes are really light."
In premarket trading, shares of Biogen fell almost 5% after Samsung Biologics called a media report that it was about to buy the company "not true." U.S.-listed shares of Didi Global fell more than 5% premarket after the ride-hailing firm said its third-quarter revenue dropped.
Investors are awaiting data on U.S. jobless claims, which have remained near decade lows in recent weeks. That reflects a tight labor market in which employers are holding on to their workers despite concerns around the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect that first-time applications for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, will stay near that level in the week ended Dec. 25 when figures are released at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Despite modest gains this morning, the U.S. dollar could weaken if Omicron coronavirus variant fears continue to fade, said Jeffrey Halley OANDA's Senior Market Analyst, Asia Pacific.
Easing fears about possible harsh lockdowns to tame the spread of Omicron prompted some investors to sell the dollar, which hit an intraday low of 95.86 Wednesday.
"After trading sideways for a few sessions, receding Omicron concerns amongst investors saw the U.S. dollar resume its gentle retreat overnight as traders moved out of defensive positioning," Halley said.
"Support at 95.85 remains marginally intact, and a daily close below 95.80 should signal further losses to 95.50," he added. However some traders are buying back the dollar, with the DXY index up.
In cryptocurrency markets, Bitcoin, the leading digital asset, continued to slide. Bitcoin was down around 2% to below $47,000, bringing declines that began at the beginning of this week close to 10%.
In bond markets, the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note ticked down to 1.529% from 1.542% Wednesday.
Trade has been typically slow in the last week of the year, with investors trying to assess how the Omicron wave will impact the Fed's decision to tighten monetary policy. News that the variant may not be as bad as initially feared indicates that inflation is likely to remain strong and labor shortages may not be aggravated
Oil prices weakened after conflicting signals from China and the U.S. on the demand outlook.
The muted moves come after the U.S. Energy Information Administration released data Wednesday showing stockpiles dropped by 3.6 million barrels in the week to Dec. 24, suggesting strong demand for oil and lifting prices.
Brent pared those gains early Thursday after Reuters reported that China had issued its first 2022 crude import quotas at 11% less than during the same period a year earlier.
Gold prices wavered, caught between a stronger dollar and falling U.S. Treasury yields. The precious metal is being pressured by a rising dollar, as the ICE Dollar Index gains 0.3%, making gold--which is bought and sold in dollars--more expensive for holders of other currencies.
Losses are being capped by falling U.S. bond yields. Other precious metals also fell, with silver down 0.5% at $22.74 an ounce and platinum down 0.2% at $967.80 an ounce.
Aluminum gained on renewed supply concerns. Major producer Alcoa said Wednesday that it would close a smelter in Spain for two years as a result of high energy prices, driven by Europe's gas-supply crunch.
The smelter has an annual capacity of 228,000 tons. Europe's industrial companies have been hit hard by sky-high natural gas prices. A lack of supply to meet the winter months helped push gas prices to record levels earlier this year, raising concerns that metal smelters, unable to pay their energy bills, would be forced to close.
Copper prices edge lower in thin, holiday-period trading. LME prices edge down 0.1%.
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