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Stocks Gain, Flight Chaos, Holiday Retail Sales Surge, Sports Struggle With Covid -Five Things You Must Know

Stock futures nudge higher as investors track Covid infections; Flight chaos hits major U.S. carries; holiday retail sales show impressive growth; China extends corporate crackdown, targets foreign listings and pro sports struggle to field full teams as Omicron infections accelerate.

Here are five things you must know for Monday, December 27:

1. -- Stock Futures  Edge Higher In Cautious Trading

U.S. equity futures edged higher Monday, following on from another record high for the S&P 500 last Thursday, as investors cautiously track global Covid infections into the traditionally quiet, but often bullish, post Christmas week.

China is in the throes of its biggest spike in Covid cases in nearly two years, as the newly-identified Omicron variant continues its rapid acceleration through major economies around the world, triggering flight cancellations, new restrictions on business and upheaval in professional and collegiate athletics. 

Trading volumes are likely to be thin this week, however, and a lack of top-tier data releases could keep stocks in a tight range over the five-day stretch heading into New Year's Eve, when markets will close at 2:00 pm Eastern time. 

To kick off the week, futures contracts tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average are indicating a modest 30 point opening bell gain, while those linked to the S&P 500 are priced for a 9 point bump from Thursday's record close, the 67th of the year.

The Nasdaq Composite is looking to open 40 points higher as benchmark 10-year Treasury note yields hold at 1.481% in overnight trading.

2. -- Global Flight Chaos Amid Covid Surge 

Global airlines cancelled nearly 5,000 flights over the Christmas weekend, sparking travel chaos from Tokyo to Toronto, amid the worldwide surge in Covid infections that crippled staffing levels for major carriers.

In the U.S, more than 2,800 flights were scrubbed, with thousands more facing significant delays, as infection spikes in New York, as well as a serious winter snowstorm in the northeast, grounded traffic and left tens of thousands of passengers stranded around the nation.

United Airlines  (UAL) - Get United Airlines Holdings, Inc. Report shares were marked 2.9% lower in pre-market trading, indicating an opening bell price of $43.57 each, while Delta Air Lines  (DAL) - Get Delta Air Lines, Inc. Report fell 2.16% to $38.45 and American Airlines  (AAL) - Get American Airlines Group, Inc. Report slumped 2.25%  to $17.85 each.

3. -- Holiday Retail Sales Surge, Says Mastercard

U.S. retail sales surged over the holiday season, a major report from Mastercard indicated Sunday, suggesting domestic consumers remain in a buoyant mood despite historic inflation rates and Covid uncertainty.

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Overall retail sales for the period between November 1 and December 24 rose 8.5% from last year, Mastercard said in its SpendingPulse report, lead by an 11% leap in online shopping.

“Shoppers were eager to secure their gifts ahead of the retail rush, with conversations surrounding supply chain and labor supply issues sending consumers online and to stores in droves,” said senior Mastercard advisor and former CEO Steve Sadove. “Consumers splurged throughout the season, with apparel and department stores experiencing strong growth as shoppers sought to put their best dressed foot forward."


4. -- China Extends Crackdown, Targets Foreign Listings

China moved to tighten rules that allow tech companies to list shares in overseas markets Monday as Beijing continues to extends its reach over an array of corporate sectors in the world's second-largest economy.  

A joint statement from the Ministry of Commerce and the National Development and Reform Commission effectively ruled that Chinese firms that are forbidden to seek foreign investment must get direct permission from Beijing -- as opposed to using a complicated legal structure that has allowed many to bypass those rules -- in order to list in overseas markets. Even the, the new rules indicate, foreign investors would be capped in terms of overall and individual ownership.

The move comes amid a broader crackdown on profiteering and expansion in several China business sectors, including technology, which has lead to surprise asset sales -- such as Tencent's dumping of its stake last wee -- and the delisting of ride sharing group Didi from the New York Stock Exchange last month.

U.S.-listed shares of Alibaba  (BABA) - Get Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Report were marked 1% lower in pre-market trading at 117.51 each, extending their year-to-date decline to around 48%, while  (JD) - Get Inc. Report was marked 1.25% lower at $67.80 and Baidu  (BIDU) - Get Baidu Inc. Report fell 0.75% to $143.05 each. 

5. -- Covid Tackles Pro, College Sports As Teams Struggle to Field Full Rosters 

Professional sports were hit hard by the Covid pandemic over the weekend, with scores of matches affected by the loss of key players and several big-name college football programs pulling out of Bowl Games amid surging infections.

In the NFL, despite some 213 players (around 10% of the entire league) reporting a positive test over the past week, all of the Week 16 matchups were played, although key absences in several contests affected the outcome and could continue to influence playoff places heading into the final stretch of the season.

The NBA is also struggling with its own Covid outbreak, as more than 100 players have entered health and safety protocols since the Omicron variant was identified late last month, prompting league officials to allow teams to sign temporary players to ensure full rosters heading into the headline slate of games on Christmas Day.

College football is also facing serious concerns for its lucrative season of Bowl Games, with the University of Miami joining a growing list of schools that have pulled out of their respective contests -- in the Hurricanes case, the Tony The Tiger Sun Bowl in El Paso -- due to rising infection rates that have left teams unable to field a complete roster.