European equities edge higher amid optimism on Omicron impact

Wall St futures are in the red, Ftse 100 falls

European equities edged slightly higher on Wednesday, with markets optimistic that the Omicron coronavirus variant would only have a limited economic fallout, even as global cases surged and more countries announced restrictions.

Europe’s Stoxx 600 rose 0.1 per cent at 0857 GMT and the MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 50 countries, was also up 0.1 per cent. Asian shares were broadly higher amid thin year-end liquidity.

But London’s Ftse 100 was down 0.2 per cent and Wall Street futures were in the red.

The slight gains in Europe come even as Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal, the Netherlands and South Korea have reimposed lockdowns or other restrictions on activity in recent days.


“It looks like each successive lockdown has been less severe in terms of economic impact than the previous ones. I think that?s partly because there?s been a lot of adaptation in the economy,” said Arnab Das, global market strategist at Invesco.

Das said markets were holding on to that hope this time around as well.

“Maybe the restrictions won’t be as severe, as comprehensive or as long-lasting as in 2020 and 2021,” he added.

The World Health Organization’s chief scientist said on Monday that it would be “unwise” to conclude from early evidence that Omicron is a milder variant than previous ones.

An Imperial College London study likewise found that the Omicron variant has shown no sign of being milder than the Delta variant.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden warned Americans about the fatal risk of being unvaccinated and brought military personnel to support overwhelmed hospitals.

Currency market moves were generally muted as trading slowed before the Christmas holidays. The US dollar index was a touch higher, up 0.1 per cent on the day at 96.547, while the euro was down 0.2 per cent.

The Australian dollar, which is often seen as a liquid proxy for risk appetite, was slightly lower at $0.7149.

The Turkish currency was highly volatile again, as traders digested measures proposed by President Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish central bank to guard local currency savings against precisely such swings. A measure of expected volatility jumped to its highest on record.

German Bund yields hovered near three-week highs amid improved risk sentiment in equity markets, while hawkish comments from the European Central Bank also helped.

European gas prices hit a new record high after a major pipeline for Russian gas coming to Europe switched direction to flow east. Oil prices were steady.

Some western politicians and industry experts have accused Russia of withholding gas deliveries to Europe amid political tensions over Ukraine, as well as delays in the certification of another pipeline, Nord Stream 2. Russia denies any connection.

Over the Christmas period, investors will be paying attention to any unexpected increase in tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Invesco’s Das said.

Russia rejects Ukrainian and US accusations that it may be preparing an invasion of Ukraine as early as next month by tens of thousands of Russian troops poised within reach of the border.

Elsewhere, cryptocurrencies picked up slightly, with bitcoin up 0.7 per cent at $49,273.32, still well below the all-time high of $69,000 hit in November. – Reuters