U.S. stocks rose in frenetic trading Wednesday, scoring their first back-to-back gains since February, after lawmakers and the White House reached an agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus package.
Investors have been eager to see the government commit to further aid for the economy as the growing coronavirus pandemic has shut factories, sent students home from universities and upended travel for millions of Americans. The pending legislation is likely to include direct financial payments to many Americans, as well as loans to businesses—reassuring some who have been worried about the economic fallout from the pandemic.
But lingering nervousness about the economy has kept many traders on edge. The stock market swung wildly Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average soaring more than 1,000 points, then shedding much of its gains in the final 15 minutes of the trading day.
The blue-chip average finished up 495.64 points, or 2.4%, to 21200.55, extending a run that propelled it to its biggest one-day gain since 1933 a day earlier. The S&P 500 added 28.23 points, or 1.2%, to 2475.56, while the Nasdaq Composite erased its gains heading into the close and finished down 33.56 points, or 0.5%, at 7384.30.
“We’re in a global economic freeze, and we don’t know how long it’ll take to thaw,” said Stephen Dover, head of equities at Franklin Templeton. Mr. Dover added that while it has been comforting to see governments and central banks roll out measures to mitigate the economic fallout from the pandemic, “we still don’t know how long people are going to stay at home, and that’s the big swing factor.”
Shares of airlines and aerospace companies jumped Wednesday on bets that the industry would be one of the major beneficiaries of the stimulus package.
soared $31.05, or 24%, to $158.73. United Airlines added $3.60, or 11%, to $36.60 and
rose $1.47, or 11%, to $15.39.
Energy stocks rallied, with the S&P 500 energy sector up 4.5%. Oil producers and exporters have been one of the worst-hit groups in the selloff of the past few weeks, hurt by both worries about falling demand for oil due to the pandemic and a price war among global producers.
Markets in Europe were choppy: The pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 finished the day up 3.1% after swinging between losses and gains earlier.
Fresh survey data Wednesday showed that German business sentiment plunged further than initially estimated in March, adding to investors’ concerns about a deep recession in the eurozone.
Globally, cases of infection surpassed 450,000 Wednesday, with more than 18,900 dead, as the disease reached far corners of the world including the U.S. territory of Guam. In the U.K., Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, tested positive for the coronavirus. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics were postponed until 2021.
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“It’s a health problem and that needs to be the primary thing the market feels has been addressed, meaning the infection rate has peaked and we get a sense of the damage done by the shutdown,” said Hani Redha, multiasset portfolio manager at PineBridge Investments. “Without that, it’s very difficult for the market to assess the downside.”
Coronavirus and the Markets
Earlier in the day, major markets in Asia closed higher, with Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average advancing more than 8% as investors cheered the agreement between U.S. lawmakers and the Trump administration.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Paul Sandhu, head of multi-assets quant solutions for the Asia-Pacific region at BNP Paribas Asset Management. “What we needed right away was an economic buffer essentially stabilizing the downside risk for the next three or four months while the virus hopefully starts to dissipate.”
Some investors in Asia are buying stocks for the first time in weeks, according to Catherine Yeung, investment director at Fidelity International in Hong Kong.
However, Ms. Yeung characterized this as “bottom-fishing,” or bargain-hunting, and said markets could stay volatile as the pandemic continued to spread globally.
“It’s too early to tell whether we are on a path to recovery” economically, Ms. Yeung said. “What will be telling are the rescue packages we see in the weeks and months [ahead] that will provide unprecedented support for jobs and wages.”
What a Difference Two Days Made
Each S&P 500 stock’s change in price from Monday’s close through Wednesday’s close.