Stocks rose slightly on Thursday, led by tech, as Wall Street grappled with more concerns over the coronavirus outbreak and dismal economic data. Tech got a lift as investors loaded up on stocks that benefit from more people staying home during the outbreak.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 33.33 points higher, or 0.1%, at 23,537.68. The Dow was down more than 200 points earlier in the day. The S&P 500 gained 0.6% to close at 2,799.55 while the Nasdaq Composite advanced 1.7% to 8,532.36. The Nasdaq 100, which is composed of the 100 largest stocks in the composite, jumped nearly 2% and erased its 2020 losses.
Netflix and Amazon each rose more than 2.5% to record levels, leading major tech stocks higher. Netflix's gains were driven by a big price-target increase from a Goldman Sachs analyst. (Click here for the latest market news.)
"This week we seem to have narrowed the focus back to the what works in this work-from-home world," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities, noting last week investors bought into the recent sell-off's laggards. "I think that's the realization that we're going to get a horrendous pile of data dumped on our heads."
"It's easy to say the market's a forward-looking mechanism and that it's priced in, but then you start hearing banks talk about their loan-loss reserves and ... you get the real data," Hogan said. "That's what's caused the pivot."
The Labor Department said 5.245 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the week of April 11. Last week's claims total brought the number of job losses to 22 million during the coronavirus outbreak.
"With 22 million people now unemployed the question at hand is how much higher can this number go," said Mike Loewengart, vice president of investment strategy at E-Trade. "Today's jobless claims still firmly indicate the fragility of the labor market."
However, Grant Thornton Chief Economist Diane Swonk pointed out the pace of weekly claims declined last week.
"It's not exactly good news when the pain is compounding but it should be peaking," Swonk said. "We are going to be disbursing 1.3 million plus small business loans. They have to start using that money within 10 days, which means we'll people brought back on the payrolls in May and June."
The Philadelphia Federal Reserve's business conditions index hit its lowest level since July 1980 as activity in the region slumped this month. U.S. housing starts plunged 22.3% in March.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday the state, in coordination with other states, will keep nonessential businesses shut down until May 15.
The extension comes even as the hospitalization rate in New York has fallen. It also comes after President Donald Trump again advocated for a gradual reopening of the economy during a press conference Wednesday evening.
"There has to be a balance. You know, there's also death involved in keeping [the economy] closed," Trump said from the White House. "We have to get back to work." On Thursday, Trump told governors they should feel free to re-open their states before May 1, depending on their conditions, according to The New York Times.
Thursday's moves followed a slump during regular trading on Wednesday as gloomy economic data and anemic bank earnings fueled concerns over the coronavirus's impact on the U.S. economy.
The Dow and Nasdaq both fell more than 1% on Wednesday while the S&P 500 lost 2.2% on the back of disappointing retail sales data.
Despite the recent dismal economic data, some market strategists pointed to a slowdown in the daily number of new U.S. coronavirus cases and the flattening in the net number of hospitalizations in New York state as evidence that markets may trend upward in the coming weeks.
JPMorgan's Marko Kolanovic said Wednesday evening that such improvements in health-care data could encourage state governments to take "baby steps" to reopen certain economies as soon as next week.
Kolanovic, the global head of quantitative and derivatives strategy at JPMorgan, reiterated his forecast that the U.S. equity market could reach new all-time highs as soon as the first half of 2021 if the economy is set to recover later that year.
Better health-care figures mean "we think it's gonna be possible to reopen it sooner. We think within a week from now, you will start seeing some limited moves," he told CNBC's "Fast Money" on Wednesday.
"It's going to be limited: I'm talking baby steps," he added. "But that tells us that by the summertime, we may more substantially recover. And sometime next year — maybe the second half of next year — the economy reaches the high watermark. Which means that the market could reach a high watermark in the first half of next year."
The Dow and S&P 500 remain more than 20% and 17.5% below their respective all-time highs set in February as marketplace jitters over the spread of the novel coronavirus and an uncertain vaccine timeline foster volatile trading on Wall Street.
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