Stock futures are flat after a rebound in markets as investors reassess omicron risk

Stock futures were flat in overnight trading on Monday after a rebound from a rollercoaster week as investors looked past the potential impact from the new omicron coronavirus variant.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose just 15 points. S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq 100 futures were both little changed.

The overnight session followed a comeback on Wall Street that saw the blue-chip Dow gain nearly 650 points. The S&P 500 jumped 1.1% on Monday with all 11 sectors registering gains. The Nasdaq Composite reversed higher to end the day up 0.9%. The rally was led by travel-related stocks such as airlines and cruise line operators.

“Easing Omicron fears are making way for investors to position for a more hawkish Fed,” said Fiona Cincotta, senior financial market analyst at City Index. “The markets are dialing back on the potential economic damage that Omicron could cause as initial reports suggest that the new COVID variant is less severe.”

Investors are betting that the new Covid-19 strain may cause milder illness than feared. White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that the initial data on the variant is “encouraging,” though he cautioned that more information was needed to fully understand it.

Meanwhile, investors are also weighing the likelihood that the Federal Reserve would begin to remove its massive pandemic easing policies and hike rates sooner than expected.

Comments by Fed officials suggest the central bank is likely to decide to double the pace of its taper to $30 billion a month at its December meeting next week. Initial discussions could also begin as soon as the December meeting about when to raise interest rates and by how much next year.

“After the markets roller coaster ride last week traders are likely at a bit of a crossroads,” said Chris Larkin, managing director of trading at E-Trade Financial. “On one hand Omicron may be less of a threat, but on the other the Fed could potentially accelerate tightening, so we could see some shifts in the market.”

Market focus will shift to the new inflation data later this week. The consumer price index, which is expected to be even hotter than the prior month, could become the catalyst for the Fed to deliver faster tightening of its policies.