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U.S. airlines scrap hundreds of Christmas Day flights due to Omicron

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U.S. airlines scrap hundreds of Christmas Day flights due to Omicron
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Travelers form lines during the holiday season as the coronavirus Omicron variant threatens to increase case numbers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. December 22, 2021. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

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By Humeyra Pamuk and Joel Schectman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. airlines canceled close to 900 flights on Saturday, the second straight day of massive cancellations as surging COVID-19 infections have sidelined some pilots and other crew members, upending plans for tens of thousands of holiday travelers over the Christmas weekend.

More than 880 Christmas Day flights, including domestic flights and those into or out of the country, were canceled, up from 690 on Christmas Eve, according to a running tally on flight-tracking website FlightAware.com. Around 800 flights were delayed.

The Christmas holidays are typically a peak time for air travel, but the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has led to a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections, forcing airlines to cancel flights as pilots and crew need to be quarantined.

United Airlines canceled 230 flights, a company spokesperson said.

“The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” spokesperson Maddie King said. She added that the cancellations made up a small portion of United’s 4,000 average daily flights during the holiday season.

“We are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays,” she said.

FlightAware data showed that Delta Air Lines (NYSE:) scrubbed 292 flights as of 11:23 a.m. EST (1623 GMT), while a spokesperson for American Airlines (NASDAQ:) said the carrier had to call off 90 mainland flights. Globally, a total of more than 2,500 flights were called off on Saturday and some 4,200 others were delayed.

“Our operation has been running smoothly, and unfortunately a number of COVID-related sick calls led us to make the difficult decision to pre-cancel some flights scheduled for today,” a spokesperson for American Airlines said.

Not all airlines were affected equally. A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines (NYSE:) said there were no issues to report with the carrier’s flights on Saturday.

The Omicron variant was first detected in November and now accounts for nearly three-quarters of U.S. cases and as many as 90% in some areas, such as the Eastern Seaboard.

The average number of new U.S. coronavirus cases has risen 45% to 179,000 per day over the past week, according to a Reuters tally.

While recent research suggests Omicron produces milder illness and a lower rate of hospitalizations than previous variants of COVID-19, health officials have maintained a cautious note about the outlook.

Ahead of the Christmas holiday, Americans scrambled for COVID-19 tests and many went ahead with their travel plans.

U.S. officials have said that people who are fully vaccinated should feel comfortable proceeding with holiday travel.

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Stock Markets

Citi promotes Asia-based banker Valderrabano as global wealth COO

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Citigroup Inc (Citi) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

By Selena Li

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Citi has appointed Valentin Valderrabano as its new chief operating officer (COO) for Citi Global Wealth, effective in July, according to an internal memo reviewed by Reuters.

Valderrabano, who reports to the bank’s global wealth head Jim O’Donnell, was most recently consumer business manager for Citibank Korea with nearly 20 years of experience at the bank.

He will replace Citi’s current COO Eduardo Martinez Campos, who will move to lead Citi Wealth Services and Strategic Investments.

The U.S. bank’s wealth business brought in $7.5 billion in revenue globally in 2021, running over $800 billion in client assets with more than 3,000 client advisers.

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Stock Markets

Analysis-Rare double whammy hits investors: steep slumps for both stocks and bonds

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Wall Street sign outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York City, New York, U.S., October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo/File Photo/File Photo

By David Randall and John McCrank

NEW YORK (Reuters) – From meme-stock enthusiasts to retirees, this year’s steep dive for both stocks and U.S. Treasury prices has upended portfolios for individual investors who had enjoyed watching their wealth grow during the historic rally in financial assets early in the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Wall Street’s brutal tumble continued on Wednesday, with the worst one-day loss since June 2020 for the S&P 500 . The benchmark index is now down 17.5% from its peak at the start of the year, erasing $499 billion in market value. At one point the S&P was down nearly 20% and on the cusp of confirming a bear market.

Unlike many past market selloffs, this downturn has also slammed U.S. Treasuries prices, pushing up yields, as the Federal Reserve began to reverse the easy money policies that supported the economy during pandemic lockdowns.

Growing more pessimistic, retail traders sold $87 million in equities on net in the past week up to Tuesday, versus a one-year average of $3.3 billion in net buys, according to a note from JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM).

Normally, Treasuries have been considered among the world’s safest investments. But so far in 2022, the ICE (NYSE:ICE) BofA US Treasury Index is down 9.3%, the worst start to the year for Treasuries since 1830 according to Deutsche Bank (ETR:DBKGn). This has slammed investors who counted on the bond market for income and as a buffer against potential stock market losses.

“Most investors have never seen a market environment like this,” said Christine Benz, director of personal finance at Morningstar. “It could get worse before it gets better, and that will really test investors’ patience.”

Many high-flying growth and tech stocks soared during the pandemic, and their steep decline has rattled investors who had bet on them, hoping for the kind of eye-popping rallies seen early last year in GameStop (NYSE:GME) and other so-called meme stocks.

“What I’m seeing is the same thing everyone else is seeing who started 18-to-24 months ago, like, ‘oh, look at all of the green, going up, up, up,’ and then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘oh crud, what is happening?'”, said Alex Rutfield, 29, an engineer in the Boston suburbs who has invested over $50,000 in stocks and ETFs that include internet and robotics firms. He said the value of his portfolio has fallen back to around even.

DOUBLE WHAMMY

The dual selloffs in stocks and bonds have been particularly difficult on individual investors who counted on a mix of stocks and bonds to blunt declines in their portfolios, with stocks ideally rising amid economic optimism and bonds strengthening during turbulent times.

That strategy does not work when stocks and bonds fall in unison. The BlackRock (NYSE:BLK) 60/40 Target (NYSE:TGT) Allocation fund, which follows a standard portfolio technique of keeping 60% of its assets in equities and 40% in fixed income to limit risk, is down nearly 12% since the start of the year, its worst performance since it launched in 2006.

The bulk of the selling in both stocks and bonds has been coming from wealthier and older investors, who are reducing their overall risk exposure, mainly through the selling of mutual funds, according to data from Vanda (NASDAQ:VNDA) Research.

Bruce Bagley, 69, founder Santa Rosa Uniform & Career Apparel in Santa Rosa, California, said he has held the course so far in his portfolio, which is 55% stocks, 40% bonds, with the rest in cash, even though everything but his REIT investments have been falling.

“Where else are you going to put your money?” he said.

Investors who had large allocations to bonds, which make up some 20% of retirement accounts on average, according to Morningstar, have canceled vacation plans, are eating in more often, and have reconsidered assistance to other family members, said Melanie Nichols, a wealth advisor at WA Asset Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

“When you have one part of a portfolio that is providing all your income and now you see it down 10% that’s frightening,” she said. “People are not used to those returns because we don’t have those returns in the bond market very often.”

Other retirees are looking for other sources of income to try to rebuild their nest egg.

“You think you have enough to live off for years and now you don’t know if it will come back,” said one 73-year old former marketing executive in the Cleveland suburbs who had about 30% of her portfolio in bonds and said she was considering finding part-time work to help preserve her retirement savings.

“Clients who had larger allocations to bonds and who really did not want to experience volatility are feeling this, and it has been very destabilizing for those folks,” said John Cunnison, chief investment officer at Baker Boyer in Walla Walla, Washington.

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Stock Markets

Woodside shareholders approve BHP petroleum merger

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The logo for Woodside Petroleum, Australia’s top independent oil and gas company, adorns a promotional poster on display at a briefing for investors in Sydney, Australia, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

By Sonali Paul

BRISBANE (Reuters) -Shareholders in Woodside (OTC:WOPEY) Petroleum approved on Thursday a merger with BHP Group (NYSE:BHP)’s petroleum arm to create a top 10 global independent oil and gas producer worth $40 billion, according to proxy votes shown at the company’s annual meeting.

More than 97% of proxy and direct votes received were in favour of the deal.

The merger, agreed last August, advances top global miner BHP’s effort to move away from fossil fuels as it looks to decarbonise, while doubling Woodside’s oil and gas production and beefing up its funding for growth.

“The merger is an opportunity for Woodside to increase its contribution to the world’s growing energy needs and build the scale, resilience and diversity to thrive through the energy transition,” Woodside Chief Executive Officer Meg O’Neill told shareholders.

BHP will be paid in Woodside shares, giving BHP investors a 48% stake in the merged group, which will have assets in Australia, the United States, Mexico, Senegal and Trinidad.

Woodside shareholders also approved a change of the company’s name to Woodside Energy Group Ltd.

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