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S&P 500 Closes at Record; Investors Eye Santa Rally; Omicron Concern Persists

Wall Street looks set to maintain its bullish end-of-year run as the S&P 500 closes at a record. But concern over the pace of breadth of omicron infections in major economies persists around the world.

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

Wall Street is largely holding onto gains since the omicron variant was first identified in late last month, with the S&P 500 up around 0.5% since Nov. 24. But accelerating case rates, alongside warnings of complacency from health officials, are starting to find their way into equity market analysis. 

China, in fact, 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 U.S. Eastern Time.

Still, Wall Street is looking to extend its so-called Santa Claus rally, where stocks generally rise over the final five trading days over Christmas and the the first two sessions of the following year.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Monday closed at 36,302.38, up 0.98%, or almost 352 points. The S&P 500 rose 65 points, or 1.38%, to 4791.19, extending Thursday's record. 

The Nasdaq Composite finished almost 218 points, or 1.39%, higher at 15,871.26. Benchmark 10-year Treasury note yields slipped to 1.48%.

Retail stocks saw some action today, following data from Mastercard  (MA) - Get Mastercard Incorporated Class A Report showing holiday sales surged the most in nearly two decades this season. Macy's  (M) - Get Macy's Inc Report stock tacked on 2.7% to $25.81 while Nordstrom  (JWN) - Get Nordstrom, Inc. Report was 2% higher at $22.15.

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

Airlines, however, are likely to remain in the red after a weekend of Christmas travel chaos that saw global carriers cancel nearly 5,000 flights. The cancellations sparked travel chaos from Tokyo to Toronto, amid the worldwide surge in Covid infections that crippled staffing levels. 

Delta Air Lines  (DAL) - Get Delta Air Lines, Inc. Report shares were marked 0.8% lower at $38. American Airlines  (AAL) - Get American Airlines Group, Inc. Report  eased 0.5% to $18.17 while United Airlines  (UAL) - Get United Airlines Holdings, Inc. Report slipped 0.7% lower to $44.58.