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U.S. stocks on Thursday looked set to extend their advance toward fresh records to cap 2021, with investor buying driven at least partly by the belief that an omicron-fueled spread of COVID won’t do lasting damage to the economy.

Investors are looking for their final economic reports of this calendar year, including a weekly U.S. update on those seeking unemployment insurance benefits.

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How are stock benchmarks performing?

On Wednesday, the Dow DJIA, +0.25% rose 90.42 points, or 0.3%, ending at a record 36,488.63, and marking its 45th record close of 2021; the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.14%  gained 6.71 points, or 0.1%, finishing at a record 4,793.06, for its 70th record close of 2021. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.10%, however, shed 15.51 points, or 0.1%, closing at 15,766.22.

The week, month and year

For the week, the Dow is headed for a gain of 1.5%, the S&P 500 are looking at a 1.4%, the Nasdaq Composite was looking at a 0.7% rise over the period. For the month and year, the Dow was on track for 5.8% rise in December and a 19.2% gain for 2021, the S&P 500 is looking at a 5% for the month so far and a 28.4% gain in the year to date, while the Nasdaq Composite was up 1.5% on the month and 22.5% in 2021.

What’s driving the market?

U.S. stock index futures edged higher in early trading, after the S&P 500 index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at new records Wednesday, with investors awaiting a report on initial jobless claims for the week ended Dec. 25 to help provide further evidence that the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 isn’t significantly hurting the jobs market and the economy.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect that first-time applications for unemployment benefits, will remain at 50-year lows at around 205,000. The data will be released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

The evidence in recent weeks suggests the omicron variant of COVID results in milder symptoms than earlier strains of coronavirus. The number of Americans now in the hospital with COVID-19 is running at around 60,000, or about half the figure seen in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, even though new daily cases are at a record.

It’s highly unlikely that hospitalization numbers will ever rise to their previous peak, Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School Public Health, told the Associated Press. Vaccines and treatments developed since last year have made it easier to curb the spread of the virus and minimize serious effects among people with breakthrough infections.

“Its going to take some time for people to get attuned to the fact that cases don’t matter the same way they did in the past,” Adalja said. “We have a lot of defense against it.” But even with fewer people hospitalized compared with past surges, the virus can wreak havoc on hospitals and health care workers, he added.

In addition, Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +1.11%  said Thursday that a South African Phase 3 study showed that its booster shot of its vaccine was 85% effective in preventing COVID-19-related hospitalization.

Beyond the joblessness data, investors also are watching for a report on manufacturing activity in the Chicago area for December. Chicago PMI’s are set to come in at 62, up from 61.8 in the previous month. The data is scheduled to be released at 9:45 a.m. There will be no data on Friday in observance of the New Year’s holiday.

Which companies are in focus?
How are other assets faring?
  • The yield on the 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y was at 1.53%, down by 1 basis points but still hanging around its highest since Nov. 24, according to Dow Jones Market Data. Yields for debt rise as prices falls.
  • The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, was up 0.1%.
  • Oil futures fell, with the U.S. benchmark CL00 trading 0.4% to $76.17 a barrel. Gold futures GC00 for February delivery GCG22 declined 0.1% at $1,803.20 an ounce.
  • Bitcoin BTCUSD was flat at around $47,195.
  • The Stoxx Europe 600 index SXXP traded 0.3% lower, while London markets rose less than 0.1%.
  • In Asian trade, the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP ended 0.6% higher, while the Hang Seng Index HSI edged up 0.1%. Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK closed 0.4% lower and China’s CSI 300 000300 booked a 0.8% advance.