Top 5 Things to Watch in Markets in the Week Ahead

The last week of 2021 looks to be a quiet finish to a volatile but profitable year for investors. The holiday week means shortened trading in many non-U.S. markets, and lower volume trading in all likelihood across the board. Does that set the scene for a positive finish to the year, or could a late surprise emerge?

Here’s what you need to know to start your week.

Santa Rally on watch

Last week’s trading, especially towards the end of the week, gave off a holiday spirit vibe, with the S&P 500 closing Thursday at all-time highs and many other indices around the world setting recent or year to date high marks. That sets the table for this week and the so-called “Santa rally”, as low volume and no news allow asset prices to follow the path of least resistance, which has so often in recent years been higher. That said, the last U.S. holiday weekend, Thanksgiving, coincided with the news of the Omicron variant, a reminder that if bad news does emerge its effect also can be exaggerated by the irregular trading.

Crude Oil Inventories

Amidst a slow data week, investors and traders may do well to keep a focus on Wednesday’s crude oil inventories report. Last week saw the largest draw on inventories since September, which along with relief over the lower severity of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, led oil to close up 4% for the week. At the same time, gasoline inventories rose much more than expected, which is perhaps a sign of slowing fuel demand amid that same Omicron’s spike in the U.S. Industry participants are anticipating a full recovery to pre-Covid demand in 2022, with OPEC+ on track to increase supply, and this will be a last check-in before the new year to see whether that story is holding up through the winter.

Smattering of Economic and Corporate reports

There are a few regular reports coming out this week, including the pending home sales report on Wednesday, weekly jobless claims on Thursday, and the Chicago PMI report out on Thursday. Each will give a year-end thermometer reading on different aspects of the economy, including read-throughs to inflation and economic expansion and where we are in the cycle.

Cal-Maine Foods (NASDAQ:CALM) is the headliner of a scant earnings reporting schedule, as the egg producer will report Tuesday after the close. This may give an indication to costs/inflation in the agriculture industry.

Omicron

While the holiday season wreaks havoc on regular Covid-19 testing patterns, discerning the severity of the Omicron variant will continue to be an important sideshow for investors and traders. Last week’s rally was spurred in part by several reports that Omicron may spread faster than previous Covid-19 variants but also that the risk of hospitalization it poses is significantly lower, whether due to a higher degree of population immunity or the nature of the variant itself.

The two things to watch are whether this initial data gets any more support, and what the impact of people’s and governments’ responses will be on the markets. South Africa, where Omicron was first identified, has already loosened some of the quarantine and testing rules put in place after Omicron’s emergence, and as the tug of war between keeping hospitals from overflowing, not spoiling the holiday season, and keeping people safe continues for governments, it remains to be seen if other governments will follow South Africa’s lead, and if the purported “end of the pandemic” is already priced into markets.

China

China steps back into the spotlight to finish the year. Its December PMI is due out at the end of the week, with the manufacturing number forecast to be at 49.6, meaning a slight contraction in activity. That number has been hovering around the break-even 50 mark, and with China so far taking a harder stand towards restraining the spread of the Omicron variant, this figure will be on watch.

China stocks are also on watch after the country released draft rules that would lead to tightened scrutiny on overseas listings but still allow Chinese companies to list abroad. After a tumultuous year for Chinese stocks, this clarity, even if it is a tighter policy than the past, may provide relief for investors.

Lastly, Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) hosts a metaverse conference on Monday, which it calls China’s first. This comes as the company has begun testing its metaverse app internally.

Those are the 5 things for this week. If you’re looking for ideas on what to watch for in the year ahead, check out Investing.com’s 2022 Outlook series.

Wishing you happy holidays and a healthy and prosperous 2022!

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