Stocks rallied on Wednesday, with major benchmarks closing at their highest levels in about a month as investors continued to price in an eventual leveling off of new coronavirus infections.
Amid early reports that the government was beginning to consider exit plans to restart businesses closed due to the outbreak, the S&P 500 jumped more than 20% above its recent closing low on March 23, with the Dow and Nasdaq following suit.
Market participants this week have been downplaying a deadly surge in diagnoses and deaths, opting instead to focus on more positive developments in the coronavirus pandemic, with hotspots like New York and Italy showing improving trends in new cases and hospitalizations. However, the Empire State reported on Wednesday that new deaths rose by 779, the largest number since the outbreak began.
And officials in other virus-stricken regions were less upbeat: France’s health minister warned on Tuesday the country had not yet hit its peak in the outbreak. Many market analysts maintain that it would be premature to assume volatility will calm in the markets in the very near-term.
“It is way too soon to signal an all-clear for the markets,” Neil Dutta, head of economics at Renaissance Macro Research, said in an email Tuesday. “First, as the news on the health front gets better, the news on the economic front will likely get much worse.”
Eight out of 10 U.S. counties are under some form of lockdown order amid the pandemic, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/Moody’s Analytics study, with the bulk of those seeing billions of dollars in lost output daily as businesses stay shuttered. And the impact of these shutdowns will soon be reflected in economic reports released in the coming weeks.
“April’s economic data will be a tough pill to swallow with monthly GDP [gross domestic product] likely contracting 50% at an annual rate,” Dutta said. “Next week, we get March retail sales and a couple of regional PMIs for April.”
He added that when social distancing measures do eventually ease, ultimately, “‘opening up’ the economy sounds much easier in theory than it will be in practice.”
“It is not a switch, but a process,” Dutta said.
Still, other prominent investors noted that the time of extreme panic may be in the past at this point, creating an opportunity for less drastically defensive positioning for market participants.
4:01 p.m. ET: Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P close at 4-week highs, with S&P more than 20% above March low
Here were the main moves in markets as of 4:04 p.m. ET:
S&P 500 (^GSPC): +90.57 (+3.41%) to 2,749.98
Dow (^DJI): +779.71 (+3.44%) to 23,433.57
Nasdaq (^IXIC): +203.64 (+2.58%) to 8,090.90
Crude (CL=F): +$2.64 (+11.17%) to $26.27 a barrel
Gold (GC=F): -$2.20 (-0.13%) to $1,681.50 per ounce
10-year Treasury (^TNX): +2.8 bps to yield 0.7640%
2:36 p.m. ET: U.S. crude oil prices rise as investors await OPEC+ meeting and hope for supply cuts
West Texas intermediate crude oil futures settled 6.2% higher to $25.09 per barrel Wednesday, snapping a previous two straight days of declines.
Members of OPEC and allied nations are set to meet Thursday to discuss potential output cuts, which could total some 10 million barrels per day and ease the supply glut weighing on prices this year.
2:00 p.m. ET: Fed releases minutes from emergency March meetings, highlighting ‘profoundly uncertain’ outlook amid coronavirus
The Federal Reserve released the combined minutes from its two emergency meetings in March Wednesday afternoon, capturing the central bank’s deliberations that ultimately resulted in members slashing benchmark interest rates to a lower band of 0%.
“With regard to monetary policy beyond this meeting, these participants judged that it would be appropriate to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 0.25 percent until policymakers were confident that the economy had weathered recent events and was on track to achieve the Committee’s maximum employment and price stability goals,” according to the minutes.
The minutes also noted that “a few participants” preferred just a 50 basis point cut at the March 15 meeting, or half the size of the cut ultimately implemented.
The Fed also highlighted the ongoing uncertainty around the outlook, helping explain the committee’s decision not to release new economic forecasts at the end of its most recent meetings.
“All participants viewed the near-term U.S. economic outlook as having deteriorated sharply in recent weeks and as having become profoundly uncertain,” according to the minutes. “Many participants had repeatedly downgraded their outlook of late in response to the rapidly evolving situation.”
“All saw U.S. economic activity as likely to decline in the coming quarter and viewed downside risks to the economic outlook as having increased significantly,” it said.
12:48 p.m. ET: Stocks extend gains, S&P 500 rises more than 20% from March low
The three major indices added to gains Wednesday afternoon, with each of the three major indices up at least 2%.
Here were the main moves in equity markets, as of 12:48 p.m. ET:
S&P 500 (^GSPC): +67.17 points (+2.53%) to 2,726.58
Dow (^DJI): +612.34 points (+2.7%) to 23,266.2
Nasdaq (^IXIC): +171.2 points (+2.17%) to 8,058.46
11:23 a.m. ET: Bernie Sanders suspends campaign for Democratic presidential nomination
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders told staffers Wednesday he is suspending his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The move effectively hands former Vice President Joe Biden the nomination, leaving him to face President Donald Trump in the general elections in November.
11:00 a.m. ET: Stocks hold onto gains, Dow rises 300+ points
Here were the main moves in markets, as of 11:00 a.m. ET:
S&P 500 (^GSPC): +37.96 points (+1.43%) to 2,697.37
Dow (^DJI): +342.64 points (+1.51%) to 22,996.50
Nasdaq (^IXIC): +99.48 points (+1.25%) to 7,987.29
Crude (CL=F): +$0.60 (+2.54%) to $24.23 a barrel
Gold (GC=F): +$4.20 (+0.25%) to $1,687.90 per ounce
10-year Treasury (^TNX): +0.5 bps to yield 0.739%
9:55 a.m. ET: JetBlue cuts service further through mid-June as travel demand drops
JetBlue said Wednesday it is cutting service between five major cities between April 15 and June 10, as the coronavirus pandemic erases the vast majority of demand for the carrier’s services.
Planned average daily departures for April will be 28 from Boston, 5 from Los Angeles, 30 from New York and 2 from San Francisco and 5 from Washington, D.C. These represent cuts of as much as 89% relative to typical daily departures from airports in these regions. This brings total flights from these five cities to 70, from the 492 previously serviced across these locations.
“As previously announced, JetBlue has reduced flying network-wide by 80% per day in April,” JetBlue said in a statement. “Customers whose flights have been canceled will be notified via email by the airline’s Customer Support team for rebooking options on other JetBlue flights or the choice of a refund or JetBlue credit for future travel.”
9:33 a.m. ET: Stocks rise, shaking off Tuesday’s volatility
Stocks kicked off Wednesday’s session higher after late-day declines wiped out Tuesday’s intraday gains.
The Energy sector led gains the S&P 500, with crude oil on track to snap back-to-back days of declines. Boeing and American Express led the Dow higher.
Here were the main moves in markets, as of 9:33 a.m. ET:
S&P 500 (^GSPC): +27.1 points (+1.02%) to 2,686.51
Dow (^DJI): +239.32 points (+1.06%) to 22,893.18
Nasdaq (^IXIC): +90.44 points (+1.12%) to 7,973.79
Crude (CL=F): +$0.76 (+3.22%) to $24.39 a barrel
Gold (GC=F): +$3.70 (+0.22%) to $1,687.40 per ounce
10-year Treasury (^TNX): +2.1 bps to yield 0.755%
9:18 a.m. ET: McDonald’s 1Q comparable sales dropped 3.4% as coronavirus outbreak hit March results
Dow component McDonald’s said its first-quarter comparable sales fell 3.4% over last year for the quarter ended March 31, as a steep drop in March sales dragged down results over the first two months of the period.
Consensus analysts expected McDonald’s to report a 0.91% same-store sales drop for the quarter, according to Refinitiv data, although these estimates may not reflect the full impact of the recent escalation in the coronavirus outbreak.
In the U.S., same-store sales dropped 13.4% in March after rising 8.1% for the two months ended February 29, leading to a net 0.1% rise in same-store sales for the full quarter. In the same quarter last year, comp sales rose 4.5%.
For McDonald’s international operated markets, same-store sales dropped off even more steeply in March relative to the start of the quarter. Same-store sales dropped 34.7% after rising 8.5% in the two months ended February 29, leading to a net 6.9% drop for the full first quarter.
McDonald’s withdrew its outlook for 2020 amid coronavirus-related uncertainty.
“While the disruption means our business is faced with immediate challenges, we believe our agility has positioned us well to adapt and continue to serve customers where it is safe to do so,” CEO Chris Kempczinski said in a statement. “Approximately 75% of our restaurants around the world are operational, the majority of which have adapted to focus on Drive-thru, Delivery, and/or Take-away.”
Shares of McDonald’s fell about 0.5% in early trading to $174.58 each.
8:30 a.m. ET: Futures add to gains, Dow futures rise 200+ points
Stock futures added to gains with an hour to go until the opening bell. Each of the three major indices was at least 1.2% higher, with contracts on the Nasdaq outperforming at a 1.33% gain.
Pre-market gains in shares of Boeing led Dow futures higher. Meanwhile, travel and leisure names including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Lines and American Airlines led early gains in the S&P 500, paring some of this year’s steep declines amid the outbreak.
7:18 a.m. ET: Stock futures pace toward higher open
Here were the main moves in markets, as of 7:18 a.m. ET:
S&P 500 futures (ES=F): up 14 points, or 0.53% to 2,656.00
Dow futures (YM=F): up 120 points, or 0.53% to 22,611.00
Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): up 55.5 points, or 0.69% to 8,067.50
Crude (CL=F): +$0.82 (+3.47%) to $24.45 a barrel
Gold (GC=F): -$1.10 (-0.07%) to $1,682.60 per ounce
10-year Treasury (^TNX): +1.1 bps to yield 0.745%
7:00 a.m. ET Wednesday: Mortgage applications sank last week as unemployment drags on housing market
An index of mortgage loan applications fell 17.9% for the week ended April 3 from the prior week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly survey.
Within this headline index, the subindex tracking refinances fell 19% versus the prior week, but was still 144% higher than the comparable week a year ago as interest rates broadly came down.
Purchases, however, fell both relative to the prior week and comparable period last year. The subindex dropped 12% from the previous week and was 33% lower than the same week last year.
“Mortgage applications fell last week, as economic weakness and the surge in unemployment continues to weigh heavily on the housing market. Purchase activity declined again, with the index dropping to its lowest level since 2015 and now down 33 percent compared to a year ago,” Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, said in a statement.
“With much less liquidity and tighter credit in the jumbo market, average loan sizes declined, and mortgage rates for jumbo loans increased to a high last seen in January,” Kan added.
6:01 p.m. ET Tuesday: Stock futures open roughly flat
Here were the main moves at the start of the overnight session for U.S. equity futures, as of 6:02 p.m. ET on Tuesday:
S&P 500 futures (ES=F): down 1.25 points, or 0.05% to 2,640.75
Dow futures (YM=F): down 18 points, or 0.08% to 22,473.00
Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): down 5.75 points, or 0.07% to 8,006.25