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Wall Street adds to its gains as hopes build for virus peak

In this image taken from video provided by the New York Stock Exchange, Tommy Gannon, Assistant Supervisor, Facilities, rings the opening bell today at the NYSE, and recognizes the Sodexo food services staff at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. (New York Stock Exchange via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are higher in midday trading on Wall Street today as markets around the world aimed to add to their huge rally from a day earlier.

The S&P 500 was up nearly 2.5 percent after being up as much as 3.5 percent in the morning. On Monday, it surged 7 percent following encouraging signs that the coronavirus pandemic may be close to leveling off in some of the hardest hit areas of the world.

Even though economists say a punishing recession is inevitable, the stock market is looking ahead to when economies will reopen from their medically induced coma. A peak in the number of new infections would give investors a sense about how long the recession may last and how deep it will be. They could then, finally, envision the other side of the economic shutdown, after authorities shut down businesses in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus. In the meantime, governments around the world are approving or discussing trillions of dollars more of aid for the global economy.

Many professional investors say they’re wary of the recent upsurge and expect more volatility ahead. But if today’s rally holds, it would be one of the few times the market has mustered a back-to-back gain since the coronavirus outbreak caused it to start selling off in mid-February.

The S&P 500 was up 2.4 percent, as of 11:39 a.m. Eastern time. It’s up a little more than 20 percent since hitting a recent low on March 23. Some investors call any rise of 20 percent or better a new “bull market,” while others say the gains need to hold for six months to confirm it.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 660 points, or 2.9 percent, to 23,350, and the Nasdaq was up 1.7 percent.

Leading the market were stocks that have been among the most heavily beaten down since the sell-off began. Travel companies, retailers and energy companies all jumped as investors envisioned people driving to their jobs again, flying to meetings and shopping in stores instead of just online.

Kohl’s surged 22 percent, American Airlines Group jumped 13.7 percent and Diamondback Energy rose 11.1 percent, but all three remain down more than 60 percent for 2020 so far.

In China, the first country to lock down wide swaths of its economy to slow the spread of the virus, authorities reported no new deaths over the past 24 hours. Many experts, though, are skeptical of China’s virus figures.

Investors also see signals that the number of daily infections and deaths may be close to peaking or plateauing in Spain, Italy and New York. The number of daily deaths rose in New York, the center of the U.S. outbreak, but other statistics were more encouraging, including the average number of people hospitalized each day.

Experts say more deaths are on the way due to COVID-19, which has already claimed at least 76,000 lives around the world. The U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases with more than 368,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

More economic misery is also on the horizon. Economists expect a report on Thursday to show that 5 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week as layoffs sweep the country. That would bring the total to nearly 15 million over the past three weeks. Analysts also expect big companies in upcoming weeks to report their worst quarter of profit declines in more than a decade.

But investors have already been preparing for a sharp, sudden recession. That’s why they sent the S&P 500 down as much as 34 percent since its mid-February peak. It’s still down about 20 percent since then.

Massive aid from the Federal Reserve has helped smooth out snarled trading that had beset lending markets earlier in the sell-off. Companies are coming back to the bond market to borrow, even some with “junk” credit ratings, and investors are actually lending them money again.

Japan’s government today formally announced a 108 trillion yen ($1 trillion) package for the world’s third-largest economy. In the U.S., the world’s largest economy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is telling her colleagues that another $1 trillion is needed for the next coronavirus rescue package. Last month, Congress approved a $2.2 trillion package.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX jumped 2.5 percent, and France’s CAC 40 rose 1.6 percent. The FTSE 100 in London added 1.9 percent.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 2 percent, South Korea’s Kospi gained 1.8 percent and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong was up 2.1 percent.

In a signal that investors are feeling less pessimistic about the economy and inflation, they pushed the yield of the 10-year Treasury up to 0.76 percent from 0.67 percent late Monday.

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