S&P 500 set to open near record high on strong retail sales report

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By Medha Singh and Anisha Sircar

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 hit a record high on Monday, as a strong retail sales report underscored the strength of the economy and overshadowed worries from Omicron-driven flight cancellations at the start of this year’s final trading week.

Retail sales in the country rose 8.5% during this year’s holiday shopping season from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, powered by an ecommerce boom, a report by Mastercard Inc showed.

The S&P 500 retailing index firmed 0.5%.

“Despite the variant and travel interruptions, retail sales were up strongly, which bodes well for the economy going into the new year,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.

Travel-related stocks, typically sensitive to news around the coronavirus, slid after U.S. airlines canceled about 800 more flights on Monday after nixing thousands of flights during the Christmas weekend, as Omicron cases soared.

The S&P 1500 airlines index shed 1.6%. Cruise operators Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp fell 2.2%-3%, leading declines on the benchmark S&P 500.

“The market will continue to rally even though the virus fear factor remains prevalent in the market,” Cardillo said.

Monday’s climb marks a fourth straight session of gain for Wall Street’s main stock indexes after encouraging news last week related to the Omicron variant calmed investor worried about the strain’s economic impact.

Nine of 11 main S&P 500 sector indexes advanced, with tech leading percentage gains.

At 9:48 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 119.06 points, or 0.33%, at 36,069.62 and the S&P 500 was up 24.64 points, or 0.52%, at 4,750.43.

The Nasdaq Composite was up 84.21 points, or 0.54%, at 15,737.59 on a boost from megacap companies, including Tesla Inc, Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc, and Meta Platform, rising between 0.9% and 2.3%.

Main stock indexes in the United States are eyeing a third straight yearly gain, with the benchmark S&P 500 on track to close out the year 26.4% higher. The Dow is set to rise 17.8%, while the Nasdaq is looking at a 22.1% climb.

Looking ahead, thinner-than-usual trading volumes ahead of New Year could make markets susceptible to volatile moves, although the last five trading days of December and the first two days of January have boded well for U.S. stocks 75% of the time since 1945, according to CFRA Research data.

GoDaddy Inc rose 6.5% after a report activist investor Starboard Value LP had purchased a 6.5% stake in web services company worth about $800 million.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by 1.5-to-1 ratio on the NYSE, while declining issues outnumbered advancers on the Nasdaq by 1.2-to-1 ratio.

The S&P 500 posted 27 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 60 new highs and 52 new lows.

(Reporting by Medha Singh and Anisha Sircar in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)