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Tech Stocks Surge, Dow Roars; Fauci Says Omicron Variant 'Almost Certainly' Less Severe Than Delta

Wall Street looks set to recoup all -- and more -- of last week's Omicron-linked declines as investors look past risks tied to the new variant, which may be milder and less virulent that first anticipated.

U.S. stocks extended early gains Tuesday, with tech leading the charge, as investors looked past concerns linked to the Omicron variant and doubled-down on growth bets in the world's major economies.

Data from British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline  (GSK) - Get GlaxoSmithKline Plc Report suggested its antibody-based COVID therapy is effective against all Omicron mutations while reports from South Africa, the epicenter of the outbreak, continue to indicate milder infections from the rapidly spreading variant.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, told the AFP news agency that the new variant 'almost certainly' not more severe than Delta. 

Alongside the fading pandemic concerns, investors were also buoyed by China's decision yesterday to cut the so-called reserve ratio -- the amount of cash needed to offset bad loans -- for the nation's biggest banks, a move that will inject billions of liquidity into the world's second largest economy as it grapples with the potential impact of an Evergrande collapse.

A stronger-than-expected reading for industrial output in Germany last month, as well as firm gains for crude and copper in the commodity markets, added to the bullish tone for global markets.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 540 points by mid-day trading, while the S&P 500 surged 98 points. The tech-focused Nasdaq Composite gained 460 points thanks in part to gains from Intel, Apple and Tesla as benchmark 10-year Treasury note yields edged higher, to 1.45%, in early New York trading.

Intel Corp.  (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation Report shares were a notable early mover, rising 6% after the chipmaker unveiled plans to list Mobileye, its self-driving car division, on the Nasdaq next year.

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Intel, which bought Israel-based Mobileye for $15.3 billion in 2017, will retain a majority holding in the group, but noted that a listing is the "best opportunity to build on Mobileye's track record for innovation and unlock value for shareholders."

Vir Biotechnology  (VIR) - Get Vir Biotechnology, Inc. Report shares were also sharply higher, rising nearly 10%, as investors reacted to news from its U.K. partner, GlaxoSmithKline, on the efficacy of their COVID antiviral against the Omicron variant. 

American Airlines  (AAL) - Get American Airlines Group, Inc. Report shares were also on focus Tuesday after the carrier said that longtime CEO Doug Parker will stand down early next year to make way for current president Robert Isom.

Tesla  (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc Report shares, too, look set to snap a four-day losing streak after outspoken CEO Elon Musk said the Congress should not approve President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion Build Back Better bill that includes subsidies for electric vehicles.

Apple  (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report shares, meanwhile, could test another all-time high after noted analyst Katy Huberty of Morgan Stanley boosted her price target on the tech giant to the highest levels on Wall Street.

Elsewhere, U.S. oil prices leapt past the $70 per barrel mark again in overnight trading, boosted by fading Omicron concerns for the travel and industrial sectors as well as the anticipated delay of any return to market for Iran-based crude based on stalled nuclear talks between EU leaders and Tehran.

WTI futures for January delivery were marked $2.44 higher from Monday's close to change hands at $71.92 per barrel while Brent contracts for February, the global pricing benchmark, jumped $2.11 to $75.23 per barrel. 

In overseas markets, Europe's Stoxx 600 gained 1.92% by mid-day trading in Frankfurt, pulling the regional benchmark to a fresh seven-day high, while the Asia region MSCI ex-Japan index closed out the session with a 1.7% gain.