omicron Covid variant, U.S. inflation data watched


LONDON — European stocks traded in cautiously positive territory on Thursday as investors continued to monitor developments around the omicron Covid variant and look ahead to key U.S. data.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 edged 0.2% higher in early trade, with household goods adding 0.6% while oil and gas stocks fell 0.7%.

Global markets have rallied in recent days as traders bet that the omicron Covid variant’s economic impact won’t be as severe as initially thought. Still, some experts have urged caution, saying there are still unknowns about the variant.

U.S. stock index futures were little changed during overnight trading on Wednesday, after the major averages posted a third straight day of gains. Asia-Pacific markets traded mixed Thursday as investors assessed risks surrounding the omicron variant.

While preliminary evidence from South Africa, where the variant was first identified, may suggest that omicron is milder than the delta strain, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on Covid-19 said Wednesday it’s “too early to conclude” that.

The WHO’s director general said Wednesday that omicron could change the course of the pandemic. The omicron variant has so far been found in 57 countries across the world.

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Meanwhile, Pfizer’s CEO said people might need a fourth Covid-19 shot sooner than expected. His comments came after preliminary research showed the omicron variant can undermine protective antibodies generated by the vaccine which the company developed with BioNTech.

The vaccine-makers released results from an initial lab study on Wednesday that showed a third dose of vaccine is effective in fighting the omicron variant, while the initial two-dose vaccination series dropped significantly in its ability to protect against the new strain.

Investors will be keeping an eye on the latest weekly jobless claims data from the U.S. for a gauge of the country’s economy; the data will be released on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists are expecting the number of first-time-filers to come in at 211,000, according to estimates from Dow Jones.

In terms of individual share price movement, Sweden online gambling company Evolution gained 4.4% in early trade to lead the Stoxx 600, while Swiss online pharmacy Zur Rose Group fell 5.6% after completing a share sale to boost capital.

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CNBC’s Annika Kim Constantino, Pippa Stevens, Spencer Kimball and Saheli Roy Choudhury contributed to this report.

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