Global Stocks Struggle for Traction as Virus Worries and U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday Sidelines Investors

Travelers walk through Portland International Airport on November 25, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Millions of Americans traveled by plane ahead of Thanksgiving, despite federal recommendations for families to stay home.

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Trading on global markets was mixed on Thursday with many exchanges closed for America’s Thanksgiving Day holiday and worries over the virus keeping many investors on the sidelines.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index traded flat, similar to Wednesday’s session. The month of November has seen a 14% gain for the index thanks to a string of positive vaccine news that has cheered investors. If those gains hold, that will mark the best monthly return in 30 years, according to FactSet data.

In Asia, the Nikkei 225 index closed up 0.9%, while the China CSI 300 index managed a 0.1% gain.

U.S. stock futures traded modestly higher, but regular trading will be shut for the Thanksgiving Day holiday, and resume for a shortened session on Friday. The Nasdaq Composite finished at a fresh record for the first time in three months on Wednesday, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average eased off its record close above 30,000 on Tuesday. November has delivered a 12% gain for the Dow.

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Stocks paused a day after that milestone as investors absorbed a barrage of economic data ahead of the holiday. Within that pile of numbers, data showed weekly jobless claims coming in higher than expected. That’s as the U.S. endures record hospitalizations and infection rates as the holiday period begins.

Officials were pleading with Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving and celebrate only with the people in their household. But nearly five million people have gone through security checks since last Friday, and a surge in testing for the virus ahead of the holidays has experts concerned.

Investors remain concerned markets may have run up too soon, too fast, despite positive COVID-19 vaccine news from Pfizer and BioNtech, AstraZeneca and Modern. They caution that the rollout of those will take time and global economies still face deep struggles.

Retailers will swing into focus for Friday, though analysts say shares of companies may not see much benefit from the glut of Black Friday shopping day and weekend deals. That’s partly because Amazon.com pushed its Prime Day event to mid-October, kicking off a frenzy of deals akin to Black Friday.

In Europe, meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with regional leaders late Wednesday and agreed on plans to extend partial lockdown measures until Dec. 20. That’s after the country reached a record level of deaths on Wednesday.

The decision “suggests that the coming winter is likely to be a long hard slog for businesses all over Europe, as populations tire of having their freedoms restricted, and concerns grow about the prospect of much longer term economic damage,” Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, told clients in a note.

In the U.K. on Wednesday, Chancellor of the Exchequer Richie Sunak said that the pandemic would trigger a 11.3% growth contraction this year — the biggest downturn in more than 300 years. He unveiled a £4.3 billion plan to tackle the likelihood of mass unemployment that will include a 2.2% hike in the minimum wage.

Crude prices were on the decline Thursday, dropping more than 1% a day after rallying to close at the highest level in more than eight months. That weighed on shares of major oil companies, such as BP and Total of France, and those losses helped pin down the Stoxx Europe 600.

Also pulling back on Thursday were Bitcoin prices, which surged above $19,000 for the first time on Tuesday. The cryptocurrency was last down 8% to trade at just over $17,000.

“With many U.S. investors likely to be off on Friday as well, the slight weakness in stocks and the plunge in Bitcoin can, at least partially, be attributed to profit-taking. This is especially the case for Bitcoin as the crypto neared its previous all-time high of just under $20,000,” said Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at ThinkMarkets, in a note to clients.

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