European markets finish Christmas week on a high note, as investors try to look past omicron worries


European stocks were headed for a flat finish on Friday, Christmas Eve, but with a weekly gain, and with several regional markets already closed for the holiday. The Stoxx Europe 600 index
closed modestly lower at 482.62, in a half trading day, breaking a winning streak that lasted for three sessions. Bourses in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Spain were closed on Friday. Among those open, the CAC 40
finished down 0.1% and Portugal’s PSI 20
was steady. The euro
was steady at $1.1336. The FTSE 100 index
closed flat.

Next week will also be a shorter trading week for some countries, such as Germany, which will see a half session Thursday and no trading Friday, New Year’s Eve. London markets will not reopen until next Wednesday, after Friday’s half-day of trading. U.S. markets were closed on Friday, a day after the S&P 500
swept to a record close. Read: Is the U.S. stock market open on Christmas Eve? New Year’s Eve? Here are the upcoming holiday trading hours. The week began with a panic fueled by fears about the omicron variant of the coronavirus that sent the Stoxx 600 tumbling 1.3%, but stock markets have clawed back ground as investors choose to embrace studies showing the fast-spreading omicron variant doesn’t cause serious illness or require hospitalizations as much as previous variants. And in addition vaccination rates are creeping up, boosters are being distributed, and anti-viral treatments have been approved by some countries. However, governments remain concerned that a surge in cases could overwhelm hospitals and healthcare facilities. Several countries in Europe have imposed restrictions on consumer activity to combat soaring cases, and more may follow the holidays. A preliminary study from the U.K. Health Security Agency released Thursday showed the omicron variant of the coronavirus resulted in 50% to 70% fewer hospitalizations than the delta variant earlier in 2021. However, it also showed that vaccine boosters began to wane after roughly 10 weeks, though protection against hospitalizations and severe disease is believed to hold up. Travel stocks rose despite reports of holiday travel disruptions prompted by rising COVID case numbers, with major U.S. airlines forced to cancel flights. International Consolidated Airlines
was up 2.3%, while InterContinental Hotels

rose 1.8%. Shares of TUI
and easyJet
were up 2.5% or more each. That’s even amid holiday travel disruptions due to industrial action on some trains, and a spread of COVID-19 among essential workers. In the U.S., United Airlines
and Delta
have already canceled dozens of flights over the weekend, partly due to COVID cases impacting crews. The U.K. saw another record number of daily cases on Thursday, with 119,789 reported. Contagion fears have hit the hospitality sector hard due to cancellations of holiday parties and gatherings. The government may announce new restrictions after the Christmas break. Technology was among the sectors trading on the downside in Europe, while pharmaceutical companies, banks and miners were on the rise Friday. Major energy names were mixed. Brent crude prices
fell 1.6% to $75.41 a barrel, while U.S. commodity markets were closed for the holiday.  Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak reportedly said in an interview on Friday that oil prices in 2022 were likely to hover around $75 a barrel, but could swing 10% in either direction. European natural gas prices continued to drop, as temperatures eased off in the region and U.S. shipments of LNG helped offset a shortage caused by disruption to a Russian pipeline. Prices surged earlier this week came as Russian pipeline flows temporarily reversed. The week has seen France forced to burn fuel oil to combat power shortages caused by outages at nuclear plants, while Kosovo introduced rolling power cuts as it grapples with high costs of importing energy and a lack of domestic production. Read: Russia-Ukraine tensions mean Europe’s natural-gas volatility unlikely to fade

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