The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index closed up 63 points, or 2.3 percent, to 2,799.31. The tech-heavy Nasdaq finished up 232 points, or 2.8 percent, to 8,495.38. All 11 U.S. stock market sectors were positive, led by energy, technology and utilities. Nearly all 30 Dow blue chips gained.
European markets surged across the board, as did most of Asia’s.
West Texas intermediate crude oil, which sold for less than $0 a barrel earlier in the week, hovered above $14 on Wednesday on its June contract, a 22.7 percent gain. Global benchmark Brent crude, which briefly dipped to a 21-year low early Wednesday, advanced 8.4 percent, to $20.96 a barrel. The improvement remains a fraction of the $50 or so needed for a producer to make money.
The market surge is partly a response to states such as Georgia and Florida announcing plans to reopen their economies in the coming days. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is beginning to outline the early stages of how New York, the state hit hardest by the virus, will start to loosen restrictions.
“Oil prices dropped to 20-year lows because 3.6 billion people, more than half of the world’s population, are covered by lockdowns,” said analyst Pavel Molchanov of Raymond James. “When we see milestones like economies beginning to open up, lockdowns being loosened or lifted altogether, that means those 3.6 billion people are starting to go back to work, back to school, and there will be more cars on the road and more planes in the air with actual passengers. That means oil demand will begin to normalize.”
Widespread lockdowns — seen as crucial to containing a pandemic that has killed more than 47,000 people in the United States and 180,000 worldwide — have sent the economy into a tailspin. With business and social activity largely in hibernation, more than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past four weeks. The federal government has unleashed trillions of dollars in stimulus spending trying to get the country back on track.
Wednesday’s recovery in oil prices came on the heels of an Energy Department report that said U.S. oil production last week fell by 900,000 barrels a day, to 12.2 million. A month ago, the U.S. produced a record 13.1 million barrels a day.
“The falling rig count and collapse in prices are having its intended effect,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. “It’s forcing oil operators to shut in their wells due to low prices. It’s beginning to clean out the glut in oil supply and restore the balance with demand.”
The oversupply has strained capacity. Giant oil tankers have become floating storage tanks, plying oceans with millions of barrels while they search for a place to unload the commodity. The U.S. fracking industry has been particularly hard hit by the sharp drop in prices, which is threatening to send many debt-laden operators into bankruptcy.
Share prices of such large oil companies as ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP rose Wednesday because the firms’ relatively strong financial position makes them more likely to weather an extended slowdown in consumption.
President Trump tweeted Tuesday that he would “never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down,” adding that he instructed Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to make funds available for the struggling sector.
But analysts were skeptical of how much help the Trump administration could offer. When oil sells at $0 or below — and it went as low as negative $30 over the two days — that means producers have so many barrels stockpiled, they’re paying consumers to take it off their hands. It’s an ominous sign for the economic recovery, analysts say.
“The supply-and-demand balance for oil is so out of whack that global demand cannot grow fast enough and suppliers can’t cut supply quickly enough to put things back in order,” said Frank Verrastro of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There is so much oil sloshing around the world and so few people using it that there is no remedy. Even President’s Trump toolbox looks bare. ”
The oil crisis emerged as U.S. companies already are dealing with one of the most challenging environments in their histories. Companies have begun a critical earnings season that will test how they are weathering the public health lockdown and what their outlook is for the remainder of the year.
Meanwhile in Washington, the Senate passed a $484 billion relief package to replenish a small-business loan program that’s been overrun by demand and to devote more money to hospitals and coronavirus testing. The House could pass the bill as soon as Thursday.
Global exchanges also advanced Wednesday. The German DAX gained about 1.6 percent and London’s FTSE climbed 2.3 percent. Japan’s Nikkei was flat most of the day but lost 0.7 percent at the day’s close. The HSI in Hong Kong did the opposite, riding gains for most of the day, only to give back all but 0.4 percent just before the close of business. India’s BSE Sensex was the big gainer, up 2.4 percent.