In a manic week full of previously unthinkable market moves, Wall Street ended Friday with one reminiscent of what things were like before the coronavirus outbreak upended everything.
The S&P 500 glided to a gain of 1.4%, with Apple, Microsoft and other technology stocks leading the way, as they did so many times before economies shut down worldwide in hopes of slowing the spread of the outbreak. The bond market was quiet, while crude prices climbed again.
The U.S. market’s gains offered a soothing departure from what was a wild week, which began with Monday’s astonishing plummet for oil and carried through Thursday’s sudden disappearance of a morning stock rally, as markets pinballed from fear to hope and back again.
“The market sort of feels like Dorothy coming to the crossroads and has yet to meet the scarecrow to tell her which way to go,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 260.01 or 1.11% to 23,775.27.
The NASDAQ composite index was up 139.77 or 1.65% to 8,634.52.
The S&P 500 was up 38.94 or 1.39% to 2,836.74.
Despite Friday’s gain, the S&P 500 still lost 1.3% for the week as worries about the economic damage dealt by the coronavirus outbreak outweighed hopes that businesses could soon reopen. That snapped the first two-week winning streak for the S&P 500 since it began selling off in February.
Reports piled higher through the week showing the pandemic is bludgeoning the economy even more than economists had feared. Roughly one in six U.S. workers has filed for unemployment benefits over the last five weeks as layoffs sweep the country.
The damage is so severe that a heavily divided Congress has reached bipartisan agreement on massive support for the economy. President Donald Trump signed a bill Friday to send another nearly $500 billion into the economy, including loans for small businesses and aid for hospitals.
The big question for markets is when the economy can reopen, said Mike Zigmont, head of trading and research at Harvest Volatility Management. Businesses can get by for a few months on government help, he said, but if the shutdown drags on longer than that they could be permanently damaged.
Many investors have essentially agreed to swallow horrific corporate profits and economic data in upcoming month, and they’re turning their focus to who can survive and eventually grow their profits in the future.
Next week is scheduled to be one of the busiest of this earnings season, with more than 150 companies in the S&P 500 reporting how much they made during the first three months of the year. Many companies in recent weeks have pulled their profit forecasts entirely for 2020 given all the uncertainty with the pandemic, and Wall Street analysts are slashing their own estimates.
“I don’t really think that’s added to the concern of investors because they assume that companies will be doing a lot of writing down in this bad year so that 2021 could look even better,” said CFRA’s Stovall.
Gains for Apple and other big technology companies helped lift the market. Tech stocks make up an outsized portion of the S&P 500 following their years of market dominance. And because the index‘s movements are dictated by changes in market value, the performance of the biggest stocks can have a disproportionate effect.
Stocks have been generally rallying since late March on promises for massive aid from Congress and the Federal Reserve, along with more recent hopes that parts of the economy may be close to reopening. In Georgia, some businesses said Friday they’ve begun welcoming back customers after the governor eased a monthlong shutdown.
But many professional investors have been skeptical of the market‘s recent rally. They say that there’s still too much uncertainty about how long the recession will last and that attempts to reopen the economy could backfire and trigger more waves of infections if they’re premature.
In a demonstration of how hungry the market is for a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, which could drive more confidence, the S&P 500 erased a rally of more than 1% in a span of seconds on Thursday following a discouraging report about a potential drug treatment. The Financial Times said a Chinese study of the drug found no positive effect, citing data published accidentally by the World Health Organization, though the company behind the drug said the data represented “inappropriate characterizations” of the study.
Through all the volatility, many investors saving for retirement have been holding steady. They’re calling in for advice much more often, and the average number of calls going into Fidelity Investments each day jumped 20% in the first three months from a year earlier. But the majority of savers with 401(k) accounts at Fidelity did not pull back on their contributions during the quarter.
The S&P 500 is down 16.2% from its record in February after roughly halving its loss since late March, though it’s more than halved its loss since it began falling in February.
Earlier in the day President Donald Trump signed into law $484 billion to employers and hospitals. The pandemic has already claimed almost 50,000 American lives and 1 in 6 U.S. jobs.
The price of oil also rose again after cratering earlier this week, but it’s still not nearly high enough to bring relief to the battered U.S. energy sector.
Global stock markets mostly fell on Friday as hopes faded for a quick recovery from the global pandemic.
A day earlier stocks turned mum after a decent start, but still held ground and closed about where the day began.
Investors looked past new economic relief measures in the United States and Europe to focus on the likelihood that reopening economies might take longer than expected.
The latest on oil
The price of oil continued a recovery from a massive crash earlier this week. U.S. benchmark crude rose 41 cents to $16.91 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 19.7% to settle at $16.50 a barrel. It has recovered after falling below $12 Monday, though it remains well below the roughly $60 level where it began the year.
Brent crude, the international standard, gained 66 cents to $25.45 a barrel.
Markets around the world
After losses in much of Asia, European stocks traded lower. France’s CAC 40 dropped 0.4% to 4,433, while Germany's DAX fell 0.4% to 10,467. Britain's FTSE 100 shed 0.5% to 5,799.
Market sentiment appears fragile as attention shifts to the economic damage the world is likely to suffer because of the pandemic, says Prakash Sakpal and Nicholas Mapa, economists at ING.
A report from the Financial Times that said an antiviral drug failed to improve conditions in patients in a Chinese clinical trial cast a shadow over hopes it might turn out to be a potential treatment for coronavirus patients.
The report cited documents published accidentally by the World Health Organization. Researchers said the sample size was too small to draw scientifically valid conclusions and the trial ended early. The Foster City, Calif.-based company behind the drug, Gilead Sciences, said the data represented “inappropriate characterizations” of the China study.
“Investors will continue to be monitoring developments on the COVID-19 front with a setback on clinical testing for a treatment to the virus,” they said in a commentary.
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Market players are also focusing on upcoming policy meetings at the Bank of Japan, the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank for signs of what they may say about the state of global economies that appear on the brink of collapse. The U.S. and EU on Thursday approved economic relief packages worth about $500 billion each.
Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.9% to finish at 19,262.00. South Korea's Kospi lost 1.3% to 1,889.01, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 climbed 0.5% to 5,242.60. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.6% to 23,831.33, while the Shanghai Composite lost 1.1% to 2,808.53.
In India, the Sensex lost 0.5% to 31,689.62. Shares fell in Taiwan and Southeast Asia.
— Compiled and edited by ArLuther Lee for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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