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Stock markets stage full recovery after Omicron fears
Stock markets hate uncertainty, and the arrival of Omicron has created an information vacuum which is likely to persist until scientists and economists get to grips with the likely health and economic effects caused by the latest variant of concern.
On 26 November, the so-called fear gauge, the VIX index, spiked higher as investors scrambled to hedge their portfolios, sending US markets down by around 2%.
UK and European markets dropped by more than 3% with travel related shares and economically sensitive stocks, such as banks, taking the brunt of the fall.
Commodities like oil and copper sank as markets moved to price in lower global growth, while interest rates dropped.
Comments from Moderna chief Stephane Bancel prompted another sell-off in markets on 1 December after he predicted a ‘material’ drop in effectiveness from current vaccines against the new variant.
Fed chairman Jay Powell added to uncertainty on the same day after he surprised markets by saying the US central bank would discuss an increase in tapering (removing stimulus) at the December meeting, which sent bond yields higher and prices lower.
Elevated volatility saw the VIX index climb from 18.58 on 24 November to 31.12 on 1 December. Historically, large spikes in the VIX index have been associated with ‘market capitulation’ and higher future stock prices.
Sentiment already appears to be shifting. The VIX has since dropped back to 22.02 and at the time of writing (7 Dec), the FTSE 100 index had recovered all its losses since the variant first dominated the headlines, and was trading slightly above pre-Omicron levels.
After falling as much as 15% on Omicron worries oil prices have staged a recovery rally following a meeting of oil producers’ cartel Opec+ (Dec 2) where Saudi Arabia and its allies agreed to press ahead with efforts to increase production by 400,000 barrels a day each month.
Opec+ also hinted it would adjust production if necessary, which seems to have provided support to prices. Brent Crude has risen by around 8% to $71.70 per barrel since the meeting.
Before the Opec+ meeting several countries including the US, China and the UK had indicated they would release supplies from their strategic oil reserves to help curb prices.