By Tommy Wilkes
LONDON (Reuters) – Stock markets dipped on Friday in thin trading but were set to see in the New Year with double-digit gains for 2021 while oil prices hovered near $80 a barrel following their biggest annual rise since 2009.
The U.S. dollar, which has had its best year since 2015 with a 6.7% rise, was steady against most major currencies.
With several markets in Asia and Europe closed on Friday, trading volumes were very thin and most markets directionless.
Britain’s FTSE 100, an underperformer throughout 2021, fell 0.35%. Wall Street futures pointed to a flat open after a late pullback on Thursday.
The MSCI World Index was marginally higher and remains just 0.5% off record highs. The index has surged 17% in 2021, its third consecutive year of double-digit gains.
A growing number of countries are reporting record daily cases of COVID-19 because of the Omicron variant and New Year celebrations will be scaled back and dampened by ongoing uncertainty about the spread of the virus.
But after initially tumbling in December, stocks have recovered over the holiday period and are heading back towards record highs as investors became reassured economies could handle the surge in Omicron cases.
“As far as COVID is concerned, for now, market participants may stay willing to add to their risk exposures, and perhaps push equity indices to new highs, as several nations around the globe held off from imposing fresh lockdowns, despite record infections around the globe the last few days,” said Charalambos Pissouros, head of research at Cyprus-based brokerage JFD Group.
Investors have held on to the resilience of the global recovery into 2022 and the prospect of further gains if money remains cheap and corporate profitability so high.
This year’s “everything rally” has seen a wall of cheap central bank cash, government stimulus and strong economic rebounds out of the pandemic make it hard not to profit from soaring asset prices.
U.S. stocks have powered the global rally as record-breaking earnings figures from Big Tech companies excited investors. This week the S&P 500 also hit another record high.
Commodity prices have enjoyed a very strong year too, with supply often falling short of a jump in demand as economies reopened.
On the last day of the year, Brent crude futures dropped 0.29% to $79.72 a barrel, while U.S. crude oil weakened 0.31% $76.75 a barrel.
But both Brent and WTI are up more than 50% in 2021, spurred by the global economic recovery and producer restraint.
In economic news, China’s factory activity unexpectedly accelerated in December, but only by a slim margin, an official survey showed, with analysts foreseeing more economic headwinds in the near term.
The euro, which has dropped 7.4% this year as investors bet the European Central Bank would be slower to end pandemic-era stimulus than rivals, dropped 0.1% but held above $1.13.
Japan’s yen, which has lost more than 11% to the dollar in 2021, dipped slightly again to 115.12 yen per dollar – not far from four-year lows touched earlier this month.
Sterling rose against both the dollar and the euro. The pound remains down for the year against the former but looks set for its best year since 2014 versus the euro and on Friday it rose to 83.69 pence, its strongest since February 2020.
Elsewhere in currency markets, Turkey’s lira – by far the biggest currency loser in 2021 – fell for a fifth straight day.
This week’s falls have eroded the big gains the lira made a week earlier as investors fret about the country’s unorthodox monetary policy and rising inflation, and that President Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to defend lira deposits unveiled this month won’t work.
Government bond markets were mostly closed.
Crytocurrency prices rose, reversing some of their losses earlier in the week. Bitcoin added 2.8% to $48,433 while Ether gained a similar amount to $3,805.
(Editing by David Clarke)