Stock futures opened higher Tuesday evening to recover some losses after a selloff earlier, when more hawkish remarks from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell compounded with lingering uncertainty around the Omicron variant and its impacts on the economy.
Contracts on the S&P 500 rose after the index closed lower by nearly 2% Tuesday afternoon. The S&P 500 closed out November with a monthly drop of 0.8%, with volatility over the past week wiping out prior gains following the discovery of the Omicron variant. Still, the S&P 500 remained higher by nearly 22% for the year-to-date through Tuesday’s close.
The Dow underperformed during the month, dropping 3.7% in November, while the Nasdaq eked out a monthly gain of 0.3%.
Some stocks, however, performed more strongly. Pfizer (PFE) shares closed out their best month since 1991 in November, jumping 23% as investors, faced with the new coronavirus variant, turned to vaccine-makers’ shares. Moderna (MRNA) shares rose 2% in November, though remarks from its CEO Stephane Bancel to the Financial Times saying that the company’s current COVID-19 vaccine would likely see a “material drop” in effectiveness against the Omicron variant sent the stock sharply lower during Tuesday’s session.
This commentary, as well as ongoing uncertainty over the transmissibility and severity of disease caused by the new variant, also contributed to the broader market drop on Tuesday.
“The market doesn’t like an information vacuum, and now we have two,” Thomas Hayes, Great Hill Capital Chairman, told Yahoo Finance Live. “Not only did we have the CEO of Moderna expressing concern that his vaccines may not have full coverage for Omicron, but then you had Powell throw this … wrench into the mix at the hearing saying that maybe we’ll speed up taper by a few months. That’s no small potatoes for sure, because the market had anticipated over six or seven months that we would get another $660 billion of liquidity.”
Namely, Powell told the Senate Banking Committee that it would be appropriate for the central bank to consider completing its asset-purchase tapering process “a few months sooner” than previously telegraphed. Market participants had been anticipating that the Fed might strike a more supportive stance for longer especially given concerns over the latest coronavirus variant. But instead, Powell suggested his priority was on curbing persistently elevated levels of inflation, and the Fed chair added it was “probably a good time retire” his description of inflation as “transitory.”
“Chairman Powell’s commentary course-corrected the view on inflation and the potential need for quicker policy adjustment,” Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist for Allianz Investment Management, wrote in an email. “The reality is hotter inflation coupled with a strong economic backdrop could end the Fed’s bond buying program as early as the first quarter of next year.”
“Ultimately, the transitory view on inflation has officially come to an end as Powell’s comments reinforced the notion that elevated prices are likely to persist well into next year,” he added. “With potential changes in policy on the horizon, market participants should expect additional market volatility in this uncharted territory.”