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

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The S&P 500 was set to open near an intraday record high on Monday, as strong retail sales 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 rose 8.5% during this year’s holiday shopping season from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, powered by soaring ecommerce sales, a report by Mastercard Inc showed.

“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.

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Travel-related stocks, typically sensitive to news around the coronavirus, slid after U.S. airlines called off many flights for a third day on Sunday as surging COVID-19 cases forced Christmas weekend travelers to change plans.

Delta Air Lines United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines dropped between 1.6% and 2.1% premarket. Cruise operators Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp fell 2.5%-3%.

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

The S&P 500 closed at an all-time high on Thursday, as upbeat news related to the Omicron coronavirus variant calmed investor nerves over the highly infection strain’s economic impact after it upended markets earlier this month.

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Wall Street’s three main indexes are eyeing a third straight yearly gain, with the benchmark S&P 500 on track to close out the year 25.8% higher. The Dow is set to rise 17.5%, while the Nasdaq is looking at a 21.4% climb.

At 8:20 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 82 points, or 0.23% and S&P 500 e-minis were up 17.25 points, or 0.37%.

Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 76 points, or 0.47% as megacap company Tesla Inc and Microsoft Corp and Meta Platform firmed between 0.5% and 1.5%.

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 5.2% after a report activist investor Starboard Value LP had purchased a 6.5% stake in web services company worth about $800 million.

Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Global Inc barred current and former employees from selling shares of the company indefinitely, the Financial Times reported on Monday. U.S.-listed shares of Didi dipped 0.7%. (Reporting by Medha Singh and Anisha Sircar in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)