U.S. Markets

Wall St ends lower on Omicron worries, Fed taper angst

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A street sign for Wall Street is seen in the financial district in New York, U.S., November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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Dec 3 (Reuters) - Wall Street's major indexes closed lower on Friday, with the Nasdaq leading the declines as investors bet that a strong jobs report would not slow the Federal Reserve's easing of support all while they grappled with uncertainty around the Omicron coronavirus variant.

After opening higher, Wall Street spent the rest of Friday's session in the doldrums and an elevated volatility index highlighted investor anxiety.

The Labor Department's report, ahead of the session's open, showed that while nonfarm job growth rose less than expected in November, the unemployment rate dropped to 4.2%, its lowest since February 2020, and wages increased. read more

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Separately, a measure of U.S. services industry activity hit a record high in November. read more

Both sets of data appeared to influence investor expectations for the Fed's next move towards tightening its policy. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said this week that the central bank will consider a faster wind-down of its bond-buying program, a move seen by some as opening the door to earlier interest rate hikes.

"There's not enough in the jobs report to dissuade the Fed from accelerating the taper and leaves the door open for a quicker rate hike than the market might have been anticipating," said Steve Sosnick, chief strategist at Interactive Brokers.

On top of this he pointed to concerns that the Omicron variant appeared to be spreading faster than Delta, the last most prevalent version of COVID-19.

The number of countries reporting Omicron cases kept expanding but there was still little clarity on the severity of the disease or the level of protection provided by existing COVID-19 vaccines. read more

According to preliminary data, the S&P 500 (.SPX) lost 38.71 points, or 0.85%, to end at 4,538.39 points, while the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) lost 292.16 points, or 1.90%, to 15,089.16. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) fell 64.78 points, or 0.19%, to 34,575.01.

In a clear indication of investor nerves, Wall Street's fear gauge, the CBOE Market Volatility index (.VIX), went above 35, in afternoon trading, for the first time since late January.

Meanwhile the S&P sector outperformers were defensive sectors consumer staples (.SPLRCS) and utilities (.SPLRCU).

However, the technology index (.SPLRCT), also often viewed as a defensive option, was the biggest loser during the session.

Decliners included heavyweights such as Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Microsoft (MSFT.O), and Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL.O).

"It's hard to argue that stocks with such huge valuations are defensive," said Interactive Brokers' Sosnick.

And with large cap technology stocks having avoided a recent deterioration in the broader markets, Sosnick said: "That's catching up to those stocks."

The economically sensitive Dow (.DJI) fell less than its peers during the session while other cyclical sectors like industrials (.SPLRCI), materials (.SPLRCM) also outperformed.

DocuSign Inc (DOCU.O) plunged on Friday after the electronic signature solutions firm forecast downbeat fourth-quarter revenue.

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Reporting by Sinéad Carew in New York; Devik Jain, Anisha Sircar and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Maju Samuel

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