Marketmind: Omicron for Christmas

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FILE PHOTO: People do their Christmas shopping before the Netherlands go into "strict" Christmas lockdown, in Nijmegen

A look at the day ahead from Danilo Masoni.

With the big central bank decisions out of the way, investors can now entirely focus on COVID-19 developments. And what they’re seeing isn’t looking good.

The Dutch are in a lockdown, Europeans face new restrictions, and officials are urging Americans to get booster shots — developments that are dashing hopes the end of the pandemic could be closer.

And as Omicron tightens its grip on Christmas, so is risk-off sentiment. Futures point to European shares falling 2%, oil lost more than $2 a barrel in Asian trading, and safe-havens like gold and the Japanese yen are seeing good demand.

The fear is that hospitalisations and deaths from Omicron could still put national health systems under pressure, given the rapid speed at which it spreads even though symptoms are mild.

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Add to that last week’s hawkish pivot by the Federal Reserve, fresh hurdles facing U.S. President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion investment bill, then worries over growth and confidence look well placed. Indeed, Goldman Sachs was quick off the blocks to trim U.S. growth forecasts for most of next year.

Elsewhere, China cut its lending benchmark rate for the first time in 20 months to prop up its slowing economy, sending the yuan to a 10-day low.

Key developments that should provide more direction to markets on Monday:

* Omicron threat looms over winter holidays in Europe andU.S. * China cuts lending benchmark, market sees more easing in2022 * Manchin delivers potential fatal blow to Biden’s $1.75trillion spending bill * UK RightMove house prices

(Reporting by Danilo Masoni; Editing by Saikat Chatterjee)