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Stocks Close Higher After Bout of Volatility

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04/08/2020 | 05:27pm EDT

By Karen Langley, Anna Isaac and Chong Koh Ping

U.S. stocks rose Wednesday, building on their gains for the week, as investors put faith in signs that the spread of the coronavirus is stabilizing in hard-hit locations.

A slowdown in the number of hospitalizations and intensive care admissions in New York suggest the number of new Covid-19 cases could be easing in the nation's biggest city, though health officials have warned that people can't let down their guard. In Italy, new coronavirus infections have been declining.

Stocks have swung wildly in recent weeks as money managers grapple with how the pandemic has affected the value of businesses in every industry. The S&P 500 has climbed 11% this week -- on pace for its largest one-week percentage gain since March 2009 -- but is down 15% in 2020.

"This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty," said Brian Yacktman, chief investment officer at YCG Investments. "What we're seeing is a complete ping-pong match with markets bouncing around so much because nobody knows how things will shake out in the short run."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 779.71 points, or 3.4%, to 23433.57. The S&P 500 gained 90.57 points, or 3.4%, to 2749.98, and the Nasdaq Composite rose 203.64 points, or 2.6%, to 8090.90.

Despite other encouraging signs, the U.S. death toll from the virus has risen, with nearly 50% more deaths Tuesday than any previous day in the epidemic, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

Elsewhere, European countries with falling infection rates began easing their restrictions, while some Asian leaders called for extended lockdowns to fight the pandemic.

"The market clearly is reacting Monday, to a certain extent yesterday and even today to incremental news that at the margin is a little better in terms of peaking of the virus, perhaps in Italy, perhaps in Spain, perhaps in New York City," said Hank Smith, co-chief investment officer at Haverford Trust.

Wednesday's gains were broad, with all 11 sectors of the S&P 500 rising. The energy group, up 14% this week, is on pace for its best week on record, in data going back to 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Shares of Occidental Petroleum climbed $1.72, or 12%, to $15.56, and Exxon Mobil gained $2.61, or 6.3%, to $43.85.

U.S. oil prices rose 6.2% amid reports that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will consider large production cuts when it meets with Russia on Thursday.

With much of the U.S. economy suddenly shut down, investors will be closely watching for guidance about when the nation can return to business. The Trump administration's current social distancing guidelines run through April.

"We need more information from the White House on how they're looking at getting the economy open again," said Megan Horneman, director of portfolio strategy at Verdence Capital Advisors.

In trying to assess the depth of the looming recession that will be triggered by the shutdown, investors are examining the support offered by the Federal Reserve and how quickly it will prove effective in bolstering economic activity.

As well as slashing interest rates, the central bank unveiled other aggressive measures in March, pledging to buy government bonds, corporate-bond funds and municipal debt. It has boosted the short-term cash markets and even arranged to lend directly to companies.

"Bear markets tend to last longer than we think," said Gregory Perdon, co-chief investment officer at Arbuthnot Latham. "Although we have shock and awe with relaunching QE, we don't know that the on-the-ground economic support is going to be there quickly."

The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose for a third consecutive day as bond prices fell, settling at 0.762% versus 0.735% Tuesday.

Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 edged up less than 0.1%. Fresh survey data Wednesday showed the German economy is expected to contract 9.8% in the second quarter due. That would be the sharpest decline recorded in Germany since at least 1970.

The indicators came on top of the news that European Union finance ministers had suspended talks on an economic crisis response, underscoring the deep differences within the bloc over how to share the mounting costs of the health crisis. Ministers had hoped to agree to a package of measures that could have provided half a trillion euros worth of support for the economy.

"There's disappointment," said Florian Hense, European economist at Berenberg Bank. "The longer it takes for finance ministers and leaders to come up with a solution, the weaker their ability to sell it to their home audience. We're not talking about economics any longer, but politics."

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 closed 2.1% higher. Late Tuesday, the government said it plans to pay households and businesses directly as part of a nearly $1 trillion economic package. It could subsequently use stimulus money to encourage consumer spending and travel.

Write to Karen Langley at karen.langley@wsj.com, Anna Isaac at anna.isaac@wsj.com and Chong Koh Ping at chong.kohping@wsj.com


Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
DJ INDUSTRIAL 2.21% 25548.27 Delayed Quote.-12.42%
NASDAQ 100 0.55% 9442.045813 Delayed Quote.8.12%
NASDAQ COMP. 0.77% 9412.357817 Delayed Quote.4.90%
NIKKEI 225 2.32% 21916.31 Real-time Quote.-9.46%
S&P 500 1.48% 3036.13 Delayed Quote.-6.02%
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