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Stocks Waver as Investors Weigh Jobs Data

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U.S. stocks were mixed Thursday as fresh data indicated that a recent uptick in Covid-19 infections hasn’t led to a surge in layoffs. 

The S&P 500 ticked up 0.1% after the broad-market index climbed to a record a day earlier. The Nasdaq Composite fell 0.1%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.2%.

The figures showed that first-time applications for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, stayed near decade lows in the week ended Dec. 25. That reflects a tight labor market in which employers are holding on to their workers despite concerns around the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Stocks typically rise during the last five trading days of the year and the first two trading days of the new year—a phenomenon known as the “Santa Claus rally.” Since 1950, the S&P 500 has ended higher about 77% of the time during the period, according to Dow Jones Market Data, with an average gain of 1.3%.

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Despite Covid-19 cases hitting a record in the U.S., some investors expect that high vaccination rates and signs of milder symptoms caused by the Omicron variant mean the economy will avoid a repeat of the disruption seen at the start of the pandemic. Many decision makers are more focused on hospitalizations than cases and are seeking to avoid stricter measures.

Lower-than-average trading volumes, with many investors off for the holiday season, could cause choppy trading or outsize moves in markets.

“On the equity side, we’re grinding higher,” said Des Lawrence, a senior investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors. “It looks like markets are a little bit more stable but liquidity is very thin at the moment, volumes are really light.”

U.S. stock indexes notched fresh records on Wednesday.



Photo:

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Shares of

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Biogen

fell 5.5% after

Samsung Biologics

called a media report that it was about to buy the company “not true.” U.S.-listed shares of

Didi Global

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rose 1.4% after the ride-hailing firm said its third-quarter revenue dropped.

In bond markets, the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note ticked up to 1.543% from 1.542% Wednesday. Yields and prices move inversely.

The Turkish lira fell 3.5% against the dollar. The currency has resumed its decline in recent days despite the Turkish government’s experimental plan to stabilize it. Investors and economists expect the lira to depreciate further due to high inflation and recently lowered interest rates.

Overseas, the Stoxx Europe 600 edged 0.3% higher. Indexes in Asia closed with mixed performances. China’s Shanghai Composite added 0.6%, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng ticked up 0.1%. South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.5%, and Japan’s Nikkei 225 declined 0.4%.

Write to Caitlin Ostroff at caitlin.ostroff@wsj.com

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