The Standard & Poor’s index 500 and Nasdaq composite indexes also took off, with the former climbing 1.7 percent on the day and 3.5 percent on the week, and its tech-heavy cousin adding 1.5 percent during the session and 6 percent during the week.
Wall Street often behaves counterintuitively, as its reaction to the 14.7 percent unemployment the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday can attest. Here are some of the reasons investors looked beyond the immediate economic wreckage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic:
1. The stock market is a future indicator, not a rearview mirror.
Investors are betting on how companies will be performing a month from now, six months from now, even a year.
“Stock prices are based on expectations,” said Howard Silverblatt of S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The current bad news was already baked in, as is more to come. But the longer-term hopes and expectations are for a reopening and corporate recovery.”
The stock market has been one of the best real-time gauges of what investors are thinking. The S&P 500 index’s role as a reliable indicator of future performance for America’s 500 largest companies is based on the collective wisdom of millions of investors who are wagering tens of billions of dollars a day based on untold bits of information. The efficient market theory, as it is known to its adherents, holds to the belief that the market prices most stocks correctly.
2. Technology stocks are killing it.
Tech giants Amazon, Apple, Google-parent Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook have been on a serious tear for years and are behind a big chunk of recent gains. Microsoft shares have jumped 17 percent and Amazon has soared 28 percent since the start of the year. The five stocks comprise 21 percent of the S&P 500 and have helped lift the Nasdaq composite into positive territory in 2020 even as the pandemic has devastated the economy. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
“These are the stocks that have empowered the economy and have been the job-creation engines,” said Ivan Feinseth of Tigress Financial Partners. “They are enabling people to work at home. Investors realize the value they provide and they … believe they will continue to be successful. Like it or not, Facebook kept people who are isolated from being alone. ”
3. There’s hope on the health front.
Despite the pandemic’s terrible toll — 76,000 American deaths and climbing — the global pharmaceutical industry has massed its resources to laser focus on finding vaccines and treatments.
Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and biotech company Moderna are among the companies racing to find a vaccine. Gilead Sciences reported “positive data” in a clinical trial for remdesivir, another possible treatment.
The hardest hit states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have reported progress against the disease, with deaths, infections and hospitalizations down from their peaks weeks ago. Improvements are also being seen worldwide. “Compared with the recent trend, the current number of new infections has been broadly stable globally on net,” Goldman Sachs analysts said in a report published this week. “This reﬂects further declines in Europe, very few new cases in China, roughly stable but elevated gains in the U.S. and further rises in emerging markets.”
Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, said “there are some signs of success on the health front. The market is looking at the rate of change of virus cases and deaths, and it doesn’t look like its getting worse. The market is expecting it’s going to get better as it has in China and in Italy. It is extrapolating from those countries’ experience.”
4. Oil markets are calming down and prices are rising.
U.S. oil prices are back near $25 per barrel and Brent crude, the international benchmark, is up near $30. Though producers need $50 or so per barrel to make money, the current prices are far better than they were just weeks ago, when holders of U.S. crude were paying people to take oil off their hands.
There is still a massive oil glut, but with the U.S. shale industry shutting down wells at a swift rate, the balance between supply and demand is getting close. The U.S. pumped 13.1 million barrels a day a few weeks ago. Now it is closer to 12 million and heading south. Meanwhile, drivers around the world are slowly getting back on the road. Gasoline usage is still down 30 percent from pre-virus levels, but it has improved from the 50 percent decline in March.
“The oil price stabilization and rise is a ray of light that we are getting through this economic darkness,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. “It’s clear there is pent-up demand waiting to be unleashed, and we are seeing that in the rebound in gasoline numbers toward normal levels. ”
5. The economy was flooded with trillions in cash and easy credit.
Investors have credited the Federal Reserve with saving the markets from collapse and averting an even worse financial crisis. As trading seized up in March, the central bank swiftly moved to buy massive quantities of government, corporate and municipal bonds.
The Fed is launching a program to lend directly to Main Street businesses that fall in the crack between financial markets and existing small-business programs. But the unusual effort is only getting started.
“The Fed went from bazookas that had mostly run out of ammo and skipped helicopters and went straight to the B-52s carpet bombing tons of cash on the financial markets and the economy,” Yardeni said.
The super-low interest rates promulgated by the Fed have sent investors out of bonds and running to equities in search of returns, helping raise stock prices.
The Trump administration launched an unprecedented small-business loan program designed to prevent companies from laying off workers, part of nearly $3 trillion Congress approved to counter the pandemic’s medical and economic toll.
6. The U.S.-China trade war truce is holding steady.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday held a conference call with Liu He, China’s vice premier and point man on the U.S.-China trade deal, to make sure the “phase one” agreement was on track.
Trump has said he is unhappy with China, which he has held responsible for allowing the virus to spread, raising fears of reprisal. But with more than 30 million unemployed, many economists have cautioned the administration against engaging in a trade war.
7. Shanghai Disneyland has sold out.
Disney said tickets to its park in Shanghai, which opens Monday, sold out in minutes. Although the park will admit only 30 percent of its capacity, people’s appetite to get out and spend money bodes well for the United States. Disney is looked at as a model for crowd control, so hospitality and entertainment companies will watch closely.