S&P 500 ends roller-coaster session lower, but ekes out gain for the week

Quadruple witching could lead to heavy volume around some stocks
Quadruple witching could lead to heavy volume around some stocks

Stocks finished Friday lower, after swinging wildly throughout the session due to technical factors. A number of headlines also raised concern about a resurgence in the coronavirus and a slowdown in the economy's recovery.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day down 208.64 points, or 0.8%, at 25,871.46, after gaining as much as 371 points earlier in the session. The S&P 500 traded 0.5% lower, or 17.42 points, at 3,097.92, after dropping 1.0% at one point. The Nasdaq Composite finished the session just 3.07 points higher at 9,946.12. 

All three major averages posted modest weekly gains. The S&P 500 gained 1.8% on the week, its fourth positive week in five. The 30-stock Dow rose 1% this week, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq outperformed, rising 3.7% this week.

A slew of negative news surrounding the pandemic knocked stocks to their session lows earlier in the day:

  • Apple said it's reclosing a total of 11 stores in Florida, Arizona, South Carolina and North Carolina. All of the stores had been re-opened since Apple initially closed them in March amid the outbreak. Shares of the tech giant traded 0.5% lower.
  • Shares of cruise line operators took a leg down after the Cruise Lines International Association announced suspension of cruise operations from U.S. ports, citing the ongoing situation with the pandemic. Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival dropped more than 5% each, while Royal Caribbean fell 6.8%.
  • Arizona and Florida reported record spikes in confirmed Covid-19 cases on Friday as states continue their phased reopenings and ramping up testing. Meanwhile, California on Thursday reported more than 4,000 new cases in a single day, the highest daily number ever.

Trading was highly volatile ahead of the S&P 500's first rebalancing of 2020, which came more than three months after the market's wild swings forced S&P Dow Jones Indices to delay this traditional quarterly event. Friday also coincided with the so-called quadruple witching, when options and futures on indexes and stocks expire.

"COVID cases have been spiking higher in certain US states …the issue is becoming too much for the market to ignore," Vital Knowledge founder Adam Crisafulli said in a note Friday. "The problem has more to do with market expectations (way too complacent/calm) and psychology (with the consensus embracing the "V"-shaped narrative)."

Stocks benefiting from the economy reopening were also under pressure following Apple's announcement. Nordstrom dropped 6.3%, while Kohl's fell 4.7%. United Airlines slid 6.3% and Delta dropped 4.1%.

Stocks started the day with strong gains after a report by Bloomberg News said that China was set to up its purchases of U.S. farm products to comply with the phase-one trade deal. The report eased concerns about U.S.-China trade relations as the two countries exchange heated rhetoric regarding the coronavirus.

Earlier this week, a record surge in U.S. retail sales and the Federal Reserve's extra stimulus lifted the market.

"Moving forward, odds of periods of volatility are likely to remain elevated as earnings must meet expectations given the strong rebound in valuations and continued uncertainties," Larry Adam, chief investment officer at Raymond James, said in a note.

Correction: The S&P 500 was down 1% at its low of the day Friday. An earlier version misstated the percentage drop.

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