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Wed. 10:14 a.m.: Stocks drift as vaccine hopes collide with virus fears

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are drifting close to their record highs this morning, as hopes for a coronavirus vaccine coming in the future collide with worries about the worsening pandemic in the present.

The S&P 500 was flipping between small gains and losses after Pfizer and BioNTech reported updated data suggesting its potential COVID-19 vaccine may be 95 percent effective. The companies said they plan to ask U.S. regulators within days to allow emergency use of the vaccine.

The benchmark index was 0.1 percent lower, as of 9:55 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 82 points, or 0.3 percent, at 29,865, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.4 percent lower.

Earlier this week, Moderna gave similarly encouraging early data about the vaccine it’s separately developing. The improved prospects for a vaccine have some investors looking past the pandemic, which has accelerated so quickly that governments across the United States and Europe are bringing back varying degrees of restrictions on businesses.

Instead, those investors are focusing on next year, when a vaccine or two could have the global economy operating closer to normal again.

That has investors again embracing stocks that were beaten down by the weakened, closed economy of the pandemic, such as airlines and stocks of smaller companies.

American Airlines climbed 4 percent, Delta Air Lines gained 3.4 percent and the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks rose 0.3 percent.

It also has investors feeling less enthusiastic about continuing to pile into the companies that dominated the stay-at-home economy of the pandemic, such as Big Tech. Apple slipped 0.6 percent, and Amazon ticked down by 0.6 percent.

Of course, many risks still remain for the market. Even with the encouraging figures from pharmaceutical companies about their potential vaccines, there’s still no guarantee one will be approved or how long it will take for it to be widely distributed.

And despite all the hopes for a year from now, the near term looks much more challenging. Coronavirus counts and hospitalizations are up in states across the country, and health experts are warning about the possibility of a brutal winter.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Tuesday warned of the potential damage to the economy coming in the next few months because of the pandemic. Additional lockdown orders would keep customers away from businesses. But even if the strictest stay-at-home orders don’t return, fear alone of the virus could keep consumers hunkered at home.

Powell and other economists have said another big financial-support program from Congress could help tide the economy over. But bitter partisanship in Washington has prevented any deal to renew extra unemployment benefits for laid-off workers and other stimulus efforts that expired earlier this year.

In Europe, a coronavirus relief package is being held up by a diplomatic dispute between Hungary and Poland and several other major EU countries.

In European stock markets, France’s CAC 40 rose 0.5 percent, and Germany’s DAX returned 0.3 percent. The FTSE 100 in London added 0.4 percent.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 1.1 percent, but other markets were stronger. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.3 percent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 0.5 percent and stocks in Shanghai added 0.2 percent.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury ticked up to 0.86 percent from 0.85 percent late Tuesday. A report showed that home builders broke ground on more new houses last month than economists expected.

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