Stocks surge on COVID-19 vaccine news, U.S. election results

Stock trader Thomas Ferrigno arrives to work at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.
(Associated Press)

Stock markets rallied worldwide Monday on brimming hopes that people will again return in full force to office buildings, shopping centers and other parts of pre-pandemic life after encouraging early data about a potential coronavirus vaccine.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed up 41.06 points, or 1.2%, at 3,550.50 after Pfizer said an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, though that doesn’t mean its release is imminent. The S&P 500, which is at the heart of many 401(k) accounts, had been up as much as 3.9% earlier in the day, though it pared its gain in the last hour of trading amid drops for the big tech stocks that dominate the market.

Markets worldwide also got a boost from a resolution to the long, market-bruising battle for the White House. Over the weekend, ballot counts gave Democrat Joe Biden the last of the electoral votes needed to become the next president. Investors say they just wanted a clear winner to emerge, regardless of which candidate it was, but a Biden administration constrained by a Congress under split control probably will offer a balance of more predictable policies.

Treasury yields and oil prices burst higher as the vaccine news made investors feel confident about a stronger economic recovery on the way. The yield on the 10-year Treasury shot up from 0.81% before the announcement to 0.93%, a big move for the bond market. The key rate touched its highest level since March earlier in the morning, according to Tradeweb. U.S. oil jumped 8.5%.


Leading the way were stocks of companies that most need the economy and the world to return to normal for their profits to heal. An 11.6% surge for Chevron and 11.9% jump for Walt Disney, amid hopes that people will start driving and flying to theme parks again, helped the Dow Jones industrial average climb 834.57 points, or 2.9%, to 29,157.97.

Cruise operators and owners of office buildings and shopping centers were among the market’s biggest winners on expectations that travelers, workers and shoppers will feel comfortable again in those places in the foreseeable future.

Carnival surged 39.3%, though it’s still down by more than half for 2020. It led a resurgence for “value stocks,” ones whose prices look cheap and had gotten left behind by the rest of the market through the pandemic.

“People are buying those because they see a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Todd Morgan, chairman at Bel Air Investment Advisors.

The big tech companies that earlier drove the market higher in the pandemic, in large part because they didn’t need a “normal” economy to succeed, lagged Monday. Apple fell 2%, for example, and Microsoft lost 2.4%.

Their losses accelerated at the end of trading, which helped drag down the S&P 500’s gains. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index slumped 181.45 points, or 1.5%, to 11,713.78.

Companies whose fortunes had soared because of pandemic stay-at-home measures fell sharply.

Zoom Video Communications, whose online meetings enable millions of remote students and workers to communicate, sank 17.4%. Grubhub, which benefited from people ordering in for dinner, dropped 10.9%. Etsy, whose online marketplace rode a wave of popularity for homemade masks, declined 17.1%.

If a vaccine for COVID-19 pans out, analysts say, it would be a “game changer” and just what the market had been waiting for. That underscores how the coronavirus and its effect on the economy are the dominant concerns for investors, much more than who wins what in Washington.

The 90% effectiveness rate for Pfizer’s potential vaccine is what struck Ajay Rajadhyaksha, head of macro research at Barclays. “If that proves to be correct, it is a significant positive surprise and increases the odds of a quicker return to normalcy,” he said.

Building on last week’s gains, the S&P 500 is up 8.6% in November. Still, analysts caution that several risks remain that could trip up the market’s big recent gains.

Coronavirus case counts continue to rise at troubling rates across much of Europe and the United States, so much that several European governments have brought back restrictions on businesses. In the U.S., confirmed coronavirus cases topped 10 million on Monday, the highest in the world.

In Washington, markets are banking on control of Congress remaining split between Democrats and Republicans, which could keep low tax rates and other pro-business policies the status quo in Washington, but that hinges on the result of runoff elections in Georgia in January.

Potential gridlock also makes any potential rescue package for the economy from Congress likely to be smaller than if Democrats had swept control of all of Washington. President Trump, meanwhile, has refused to concede the election.

Late in the trading day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Trump is “100% within his rights” to question election results and consider legal options.

For now, though, euphoria about a possible return to normality is the dominant force across markets, particularly as it layers on top of the tremendous aid the Federal Reserve has already put in place for the economy.

Pfizer jumped 7.7% as its announcement indicates the company and its German partner, BioNTech, are on track to file an emergency-use application for their COVID-19 vaccine with U.S. regulators later this month.

In markets around the world, stocks strengthened amid expectations that a Biden-led White House could tamp down trade tensions that had built under Trump’s administration. Stock markets across Europe jumped more than 4%. In Asia, many markets rose more than 1%.