LIVE MARKETS Two steps back: Economic recovery stumbles backward into 2022

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  • DJI slightly positive, S&P 500 edges down, Nasdaq falls ~0.5%
  • Real estate biggest S&P sector gainer; comm svcs down most
  • Euro STOXX 600 index slides ~1.8%
  • Dollar, crude, gold, bitcoin all lower
  • U.S. 10-Year Treasury yield ~1.76%

Jan 21 - Welcome to the home for real-time coverage of markets brought to you by Reuters reporters. You can share your thoughts with us at markets.research@thomsonreuters.com

TWO STEPS BACK: ECONOMIC RECOVERY STUMBLES BACKWARD INTO 2022 (1137 EST/1637 GMT)

The U.S. economy has taken a couple of steps backward as it foxtrots its way back to full recovery from the steepest, most abrupt recession in history.

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Recovery trackers from economic analysis firm Oxford Economics (OE) and broker Goldman Sachs (GS), which use different groups of metrics to assess the status of the United States' dance back to 'normal,' both reveal a backslide, with the health picture deteriorating at the hands of the Omicron COVID-variant and a hawkish pivot by the Fed identified as the culprits.

"Health conditions stood at their worst in 10 months, while demand weakened sharply," writes Oren Klachkin, lead U.S. economist at OE, who said the Omicron/Fed double-whammy sent the OE Recovery Tracker to its lowest since last April.

"Financial conditions tightened, and mobility softened," added Klachkin, who then offered reasons to be optimistic, saying "stronger employment and production data indicate that under the surface the recovery is maintaining positive momentum."

The graphic below, courtesy of OE, shows a history of the recovery broken down by its six main metrics: financial, mobility, production, employment, demand, and health (click to enlarge):

Recovery tracker

As for GS, lead analyst Jan Hatzius said that while the spike in COVID-related hospitalizations are currently well above the two previous waves, Omicron is resulting in a smaller percentage of hospitalizations and deaths.

But sick workers made their absence felt.

"The share of the adult population not working because of virus-related reasons tripled" in the first month of the year, Hatzius writes, outpointing that public-facing workers in education and healthcare saw and average 10% absenteeism rate, and airline staff in mandatory isolation due to positive COVID test results caused "an average of 8% of flights were canceled each day between December 27 and January 7."

Virus fears are influencing consumer behavior, according to GS, with 59% of adults viewing health risks from normal activities from "moderate" to "large," a 15 percentage point gain since Omicron made its entrance.

Hatzius cites a marked decline in TSA throughput and Open Table's measure of seated diners as evidence of declining activity in virus-sensitive services.

The coming week should offer even more clarity regarding the strength of current headwinds and the economy's ability to withstand them.

The FOMC's statement and Q&A session at the conclusion of its two-day monetary policy meeting will be the star of the show, with the Commerce Department's first stab at fourth-quarter GDP, PCE inflation, consumer spending, and new home sales filling out the supporting cast.

(Stephen Culp)

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NASDAQ HEADS FOR BIGGEST WEEKLY FALL SINCE MARCH 2020 (0958 EST/1458 GMT)

Wall Street's main indexes are continuing lower early Friday, and on track for at least their third-straight week of declines, after a weak forecast from Netflix sent shares of the streaming company and its peers spiraling down.

Indeed, it's been an especially rough week for the Nasdaq (.IXIC). The tech-laden index is off more than 6%, putting it on pace for its biggest weekly percentage fall since a 12.6% collapse in March 2020. Under the surface, chips remain especially weak. The Philadelphia SE Semiconductor index (.SOX), with a more than 11% slide, is also on pace for its worst week since a 16% swoon in March 2020.

Meanwhile, despite a sharp downward reversal in the U.S. 10-Year Treasury yield , which has seen it slide from Wednesday's high of 1.9020% back to the 1.75% area on Friday read more , growth (.IGX) is on track to underperform value (.IVX) on the day, and for the fourth-straight week. The IGX/IVX ratio is on pace for its biggest monthly drop since February 2001.

Here is where markets stand in early trade:

earlytrade01212022

(Terence Gabriel)

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UKRAINE TENSIONS COULD FAVOR US ASSETS (931 EST/1431 GMT)

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are grabbing the attention of investors, who are considering ways any turmoil will ripple through markets.

Strategists at BCA Research assign a 50/50 probability that diplomacy in the region will fail, leading to a "minor invasion" of Ukraine, as well as a 5% chance Russia invades the whole country. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after talks with Russia's foreign minister on Friday that Moscow would face a "swift, severe and a united response" if it invades Ukraine.

In a note on Friday, BCA strategists gamed out a scenario where Russian actions result in sanctions, with Russia retaliating in a way that aggravates Europe's "energy crisis."

"For investors, this means that US-Russia tensions pose a tactical threat to European risk assets," BCA strategists wrote.

Historically, the strategists said, U.S. risk assets have outperformed foreign counterparts when global risk rises.

"The relatively more defensive nature of the US dollar and US equities implies that US stocks and the greenback will outperform in an environment of elevated risk," the strategists said.

(Lewis Krauskopf)

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NASDAQ COMPOSITE: WILY COYOTE LOOKING MORE LIKE A BEAR (0900 EST/1400 GMT)

The Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) ended Thursday down nearly 12% from its November-19 record close. And although its just the early days of 2022, the IXIC's 9.5% decline so far puts it on track for its biggest yearly drop since 2008.

Of note, on a daily basis, the IXIC ended Thursday at its most oversold since the February/March 2020 panic read more :

IXIC01212021

Therefore, the Composite appears ripe for a bounce at any time. However, traders will be assessing the structure and character of any rally, since sudden strength could just prove to be a reaction to help alleviate the oversold condition, in what will still prove to be a continuing trend to the downside.

For example, in the August/December 2018, and February/March 2020 collapses, the deepest oversold readings on a daily basis occurred in the earlier stages of the declines. It was not until the IXIC hit new lows, accompanied by a bullish momentum convergence, that true bottoms were then found.

Meanwhile, a number of Nasdaq internal measures are especially weak again. The Nasdaq New High/New Low (NH/NL) index has fallen to 16.1% - click here: read more . The Nasdaq McClellan Summation (McSum) has plunged to -5,276 - click here: read more . The Nasdaq weekly Advance/Decline (A/D) ratio is at 0.79 read more . These measures have yet to stabilize, but have the potential to reach washed-out levels at any time.

That said, when looking at the Composite's yearly Bollinger Band (BB) chart, the downside still appears to beckon. The IXIC still needs to fall to least 13,645 to tick back below the upper yearly band. Click here: read more

At that level, the Composite would be down 15% from its record-high close. And if its nine-year streak of yearly closes above the upper-yearly BB is to end, 2022 will likely see some venerable roadrunners, like tech (.SPLRCT), chips (.SOX), and FANGs (.NYFANG), prove to be road-kill.

(Terence Gabriel)

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Terence Gabriel is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own

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