Stocks surge to cap off wild October, but S&P 500 posts biggest monthly loss since 2011

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 241 points, bringing its two-day gain to nearly 650 points, while the S&P 500 gained more than 1 percent.
  • But despite Wednesday's surge, the S&P 500 posted its worst monthly performance since 2011 after worries about higher interest rates and trade rattled investors throughout October.

Stocks rose sharply on Wednesday for a second straight day as strong earnings from General Motors and Facebook lifted sentiment. But the major averages still posted big October losses.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 241.12 points to 25,115.76, led by Visa, bringing its two-day gain to about 650 points. The S&P 500 gained 1.1 percent to 2,711.68 as consumer discretionary and energy outperformed. The Nasdaq Composite advanced 2 percent to 7,305.90 and briefly climbed out of correction territory.

Still, the major averages posted big losses for the month:

  • The S&P 500 lost 6.9 percent in October, its biggest one-month slide since September 2011, when it fell 7.2 percent.
  • The Dow dropped 5.1 percent to post its biggest monthly fall since January 2016, when it dropped 5.5 percent.
  • The Nasdaq plunged 9.2 percent, its largest monthly pullback since November 2008, when it shed 10.8 percent.

"The earnings story is flip-flopping between being very good and pretty good," said Craig Birk, CIO at Personal Capital. "There's also some optimism that a breakthrough on trade could happen."

"The drop this month came out of nowhere. Usually that's a sign of a correction and not a bear market," he said. "Usually a bear market rolls more slowly."

General Motors shares spiked 9.1 percent after the company reported quarterly results that easily topped expectations. The company said it sold fewer cars in the third quarter, but at a higher price, boosting its bottom line.

Facebook shares rose 3.8 percent after the company reported on Tuesday better-than-expected earnings. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the company's earnings call Facebook plans to invest significantly in its business next year. He also said Facebook plans to build products such as Facebook Watch and Instagram TV.

The stock's rise on Wednesday led Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Alphabet higher.

Equities have been under pressure this month amid renewed concern over rising interest rates and U.S.-China trade relations, as well as worries about slowing corporate earnings growth. Tech shares have also taken a big hit, adding pressure to the broader indexes. Facebook's gains Wednesday helped ease these losses, but the sector still fell more than 8 percent for October.

But Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial, thinks the situation is not as bad as it seems.

"Even though the list of worries has grown in October, it is quite reassuring to know that consensus estimates for 2019 S&P 500 earnings per share actually increased this month," Detrick said. "Call us old school, but we still think earnings drive long-term stock gains, and this is a great sign amid all the market volatility."

U.S. stocks closed higher in the previous session, as markets pared some of the month's losses. Such a move is not uncommon as a month of steep declines comes to an end.

According to data from Bespoke Investment Group, when the S&P 500 is down more at least 8 percent with two trading days left in a month, the index has bounced back 80 percent of the time in those last days. The data date back to 1952.

On the data front, private payrolls rose by 227,000 in October, according to a report from ADP and Moody's Analytics. The gain is more than economists polled by Refinitiv expected.

This report comes ahead of Friday's nonfarm payrolls report.

— CNBC's Sam Meredith , Thomas Franck and John Melloy contributed to this report.