13:39Nov 26, 2021Reuters

Dow set for 2% fall on fears over new virus variant

U.S. stock index futures slumped on Friday, with travel, bank and commodity-linked stocks bearing the brunt of a selloff triggered by the discovery of a new and possibly vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant.

Southwest Airlines (), American Airlines (), United Airlines () dropped between 5.8% and 8.9% in premarket trading, while cruiseliners Carnival Corp (), Royal Caribbean Cruises () and Norwegian Cruise Line () plunged 10% each.

Global stock markets sold off sharply after reports that the new variant detected in South Africa prompted the European Union, Britain and India among others to announce stricter border controls.

Little is known of the variant, but scientists say it has an unusual combination of mutations, may be able to evade immune responses and could be more transmissible.

A top U.S. infectious disease official said no decision had been made on a U.S. travel ban, but said it was a possibility.

Wall Street lenders Bank of America Corp (), Citigroup Inc (), JPMorgan Chase & Co (), Goldman Sachs (), Wells Fargo & Co () and Morgan Stanley () slipped between 3% and 4%, as investors pared back bets of faster U.S. interest rate hikes. US/

Futures tracking the domestically focused Russell 2000 small-cap index (RTYcv1) tumbled 3.4%, looking at its worst day since June 2020.

"The new variant news has brought with it a 'sell first and ask questions later' mentality," said Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist at LPL Financial. "The economic recovery has been quite impressive and the one thing that could knock it over completely would be a more dangerous variant."

At 8:00 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis (1YMcv1) were down 782 points, or 2.19%, S&P 500 e-minis () were down 79.25 points, or 1.69%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis () were down 171.5 points, or 1.05%.

The CBOE volatility index (), popularly known as Wall Street's fear gauge, jumped to its highest level since Sept 20.

Elevated U.S. inflation, coupled with strong economic data and the renomination of Jerome Powell as the Fed chair by President Joe Biden, had prompted market participants to raise their bets on early interest rate hikes next year, knocking U.S. stocks off their record levels this week.

"Because we've recently hit new highs in the S&P and other indices, it could give investors reasons to try to lock in profits, at least for the near term, if not for the rest of the year," said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research in New York.

"The stocks that did well in the COVID lockdown, like Peloton or Zoom, are probably going to do well once again."

"Stay-at-home" names such as Netflix Inc (), Peloton Interactive () and Zoom Video Communications () jumped between 2.5% and 8.0%.

Oil majors Exxon Mobil Corp () and Chevron Corp () dropped 4.4% and 3.7%, respectively, as crude prices tumbled. O/R

Some vaccine makers including Pfizer Inc () and partner BioNTech SE () as well as Moderna Inc () climbed between 5.8% and 9.0%.

Trading volumes are expected to be light in the short trading session as markets close at 1:00 p.m. ET, a day after the Thanksgiving holiday.