Stocks rise amid investors’ tug of war between hope, fear
Wall Street capped a day of choppy trading with modest gains for stocks Thursday, as the market’s tug of war continues between worries about the worsening pandemic in the present and optimism that a vaccine will rescue the economy in the future.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 0.4% after spending much of the day flipping between small losses and gains. The benchmark index was coming off a 1.2% slide from the day before that pulled it away from its record of 3,626.91 set on Monday. The late-afternoon burst of buying erased nearly all of the S&P 500’s losses for the week.
Technology companies accounted for much of the rebound. Companies that rely on consumer spending and communications stocks also helped lift the market, outweighing losses in the utilities and healthcare sectors. Treasury yields fell, a sign of caution in the market.
The S&P 500 gained 14.08 points to 3,581.87. The Dow Jones industrial average added 44.81 points, or 0.2%, to 29,483.23. The index had been down 210 points. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite climbed 103.11 points, or 0.9%, to 11,904.71.
Small-company stocks had a good showing. The Russell 2000 index picked up 14.82 points, or 0.8%, 1,784.13.
Wall Street’s huge November rally has slowed this week as fears about the economy buckling in the near term collide with hopes that stronger growth will arrive next year once effective coronavirus vaccines become available. A discouraging report on Thursday underscored the fears, showing that more U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week than the week before. It was a worse number than economists expected and the first increase in five weeks.
With infections and hospitalizations on the rise across much of the country, governors and mayors are grudgingly issuing mask mandates, limiting the size of gatherings, banning indoor restaurant dining, closing gyms and restricting the hours and capacity of other businesses.
Investors worry the moves and the worsening pandemic that caused them will hurt corporate profits and shake confidence among consumers, keeping them hunkered at home. New York City’s announcement that it’s halting in-person learning at public schools helped send stocks on their late-day slide Wednesday.
Democrats and Republicans in Washington, meanwhile, are still stymied in their attempts to deliver another dose of financial support to workers and businesses. That has the specter of a bleak winter looming for both the healthcare system and economy.
Counterbalancing all those fears is hope that coming vaccines can control the pandemic and get the global economy back toward normal next year.
University of Oxford scientists expect to report results from the late-stage trials of the COVID-19 vaccine they’re developing with AstraZeneca by Christmas, a key researcher said Thursday.
Already this month, pharmaceutical companies have offered data suggesting other vaccines under development could be highly effective. Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday they plan to ask U.S. regulators within days to allow emergency use of their vaccine.
That had led to a resurgence of interest for stocks that stand to gain the most from a healthy, reopening economy. These were also among the stocks most beaten down by the stay-at-home economy created by the pandemic, such as travel-related businesses, banks and smaller companies.
L Brands, the company behind Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret, notched the biggest gain in the S&P 500 Thursday. It vaulted 17.7% after it reported a profit for the latest quarter that blew past Wall Street’s expectations.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury dipped to 0.84% from 0.86% late Wednesday.
European stock markets fell, and Asian markets ended mixed.