European markets fluctuate as investors digest news from omicron; Retail trade down 1.4%

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LONDON – European stocks followed suit on Wednesday as investors continued to digest the latest news about the new omicron Covid variant.

After an uncertain open, the pan-European Stoxx 600 was down 0.2% by mid-afternoon, after giving up earlier gains of around 0.5%. Retail inventories fell 1.4% while health care rose 0.7%.

The uncertain trade in Europe comes after a strong session on Tuesday, when global markets rallied as concerns about the potential severity of the omicron variant eased.

Since then, there have been mixed announcements regarding the omicron variant. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Tuesday that the omicron variant appears to be milder than previous strains, but also appears to spread faster and could lead to more mutations in the future.

However, South African scientists said on Tuesday that omicron significantly reduced the antibody protection generated by the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, according to a small preliminary study. Still, people who have recovered from the virus and received a booster will likely have better protection against serious illness, the study showed.

Earlier, White House chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci said preliminary data from South Africa last week was “encouraging” because it suggested that omicron was not as bad as it was. This was initially feared, while noting that more data is needed to fully assess the risk posed by the variant.

Meanwhile, the US CDC said on Tuesday that the new variant has now been found in 50 countries and 19 US states.

Overnight in Asia-Pacific, Hong Kong stocks lagged other markets as struggling Chinese real estate developers returned to the limelight. Chinese social media giant Weibo also made a disappointing debut in the Hong Kong market.

U.S. stock futures rose slightly at the start of pre-market trading on Wednesday, after stocks continued to climb from the omicron selloff seen last week.

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In terms of the development of individual stock prices in Europe, Swedish online games company Evolution Gaming added more than 8% to lead the Stoxx 600.

British investment firm Man Group gained 4% after announcing a share buyback program of up to $ 250 million.

At the bottom of the European blue chip index, German meal kit delivery company Hellofresh fell more than 7% after missing profit expectations.

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