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Omicron and Manchin deliver a one-two punch to global stock markets—crude, crypto, and equities plunge

December 20, 2021, 9:47 AM UTC

Crude, crypto, Treasury yields, and global equities are taking a pounding on Monday. The culprits? D.C. politics and a new wave of pandemic lockdown measures.

The first jolt for investors landed like a gut punch this weekend. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin went on Fox News Sunday to say he’s a no on Build Back Better, putting the Biden-backed $1.75 trillion domestic spending plan on thin ice. Within hours of the pronouncement, Goldman Sachs revised lower its outlook for 2022 U.S. economic growth.

On cue, U.S. futures sunk on Monday, with the Dow Jones industrial average futures off more than 450 points around 4 a.m. ET. That’s after stocks put up a big “L” last week—all three major averages fell, with the Nasdaq the worst of the trio. The tech-heavy index closed on Friday down nearly 3% for the week.

UBS chief economist Paul Donovan counters that the growth fears associated with a now-jeopardized Biden spending plan are overblown. He went on Bloomberg TV on Monday to call Build Back Better, a sweeping domestic spending package that would provide free preschool, fight climate change, and provide tax breaks for families, “a mild fiscal stimulus” that, by itself, wouldn’t raise the needle for the giant U.S. economy.

Even so, you could see the news buffeting global markets. Investors in Asia and Europe dumped shares in a broad-based selloff. Risk assets, the ones most tied to global growth, took a pounding. Brent crude fell more than 4%, and that rocked energy and travel and leisure stocks. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 was off nearly 2.3% in early trading, and S&P 500 futures were down nearly 2% at one point. Adding to investor jitters: Trading volume is notoriously light this week, potentially adding a further dose of volatility to global markets.

The other factor rocking markets: Europe’s troubles with Omicron are growing, with the United Kingdom and Denmark registering record cases of infections on consecutive days. The highly contagious variant is forcing governments across the eurozone and elsewhere to consider tougher restrictions. The Netherlands introduced on Sunday a strict new lockdown order that will last through Christmas week and into mid-January. Under the rules, schools will be closed as will nonessential shops—bad news for gift-giving procrastinators and for the country’s fragile retail sector. Britain, too, is mulling tough new measures, putting more pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s standing with his fractious Conservative Party.

In an investor note on Monday, Berenberg chief economist Holger Schmieding says the risk scenario for the U.K. and the eurozone is a 1% hit to Q1 GDP should a new wave of restrictions be enacted to combat Omicron.

Crypto bulls, too, were hardly cushioned from the volatility. The end-of-year slump in everything from Bitcoin to Ether to Dogecoin continued on Monday. Bitcoin was off nearly 3% at 4 a.m. ET, well below its 200-day moving average. Ethereum’s Ether was down nearly 5%.

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