S&P 500 closes at record, Nasdaq adds 1% as stocks shake off J&J vaccine halt, higher inflation

Fundamentals are really strong, expectations will beat, says trader
Fundamentals are really strong, expectations will beat, says trader

U.S. stocks traded mostly higher on Tuesday after a March inflation report turned out not as bad as some traders feared, but the impact of a halt to the rollout of Johnson & Johnson vaccine kept optimism in check.

The S&P 500 added 0.33% to finish at 4,141.59 and locked in a new closing high. The Nasdaq Composite, the relative outperformer, gained just over 1% to 13,996.1 as Apple and PayPal each added more than 2%. Semiconductor maker Nvidia climbed 3%, Tesla rose 8.6%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 68.13 points, 0.2%, to close at 33,677.27 after dropping more than 150 points earlier in the session.

Reopening trades came under pressure Tuesday morning after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it's recommending a pause in the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine after reported cases of blood clotting.

There have been six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot after receiving the J&J vaccine, the FDA said. The administration is calling for a pause in the vaccine until Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concludes its investigation into these cases.

"Until that process is complete, we are recommending this pause," the FDA said. "This is important to ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot."

Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said later Tuesday that she expects the pause to last "a matter of days." More than 6.8 million doses of the single-dose vaccine have been administered in the U.S. J&J shares lost 1.3%.

Jeff Zients, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, replied that the FDA's announcement should not have a material impact on the national effort to vaccinate.

"Over the last few weeks, we have made available more than 25 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna each week, and in fact this week we will make available 28 million doses of these vaccines," he added. "This is more than enough supply to continue the current pace of vaccinations of 3 million shots per day, and meet the President's goal of 200 million shots by his 100th day in office."

Still, shares of companies that would be hurt the most if the vaccine rollout slows underperformed Tuesday.

Alaska Air and American Airlines both lost 1.5%; car-rental company Avis Budget shed nearly 1%. Shares of Moderna, which makes another coronavirus vaccine, jumped 7.4% following the J&J news, which was reported first by The New York Times.

"I don't think there's going to be a huge reaction in the market beyond the knee-jerk reaction we're getting here right now," said Mike Wilson, chief U.S. equity strategist for Morgan Stanley, on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "We're optimistic, very optimistic that we're going to be reopened fully in the second half of this year."

Traders on the New York Stock Exchange.
Source: NYSEa

The consumer price index, one of Wall Street's most-popular inflation gauges, rose 0.6% in March and increased 2.6% from the same period a year ago. Economists polled by Dow Jones were projecting the headline index to rise by 0.5% month over month and 2.5% year over year.

Core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, increased 0.3% monthly and 1.6% year over year.

Government officials, including Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Sunday and Biden administration economists on Monday, stressed that while they expect a jump in inflation in the months ahead, the change could prove temporary due to comparisons with last year's pandemic lockdowns and extra consumer spending from stimulus checks and pent-up demand.

Private sector strategists and economists also said that the reading may not be a true gauge of rising prices. Fed officials said they are willing to let inflation run hot for a period of time without changing their accommodative policy stance, including asset purchases and a benchmark interest near zero.

"US equities are drifting slightly higher Tuesday as investors digest a higher-than-expected inflation in the CPI report and position ahead of 1Q21 earnings, which start on Wednesday," Chris Hussey, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, wrote in a note.

"Underneath the surface, the market is assuming a defensive posture today led by mega-cap Tech and the bond proxies -- Utilities and Real Estate," he added.

The market has been calm over the past week as Wall Street settled into a lull ahead of the first-quarter earnings season. Corporate news is set to pick up later in the week, with JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Delta Air Lines among the companies set to report quarterly results.

The bond market was also subdued on Tuesday, with the 10-year Treasury yield edging lower to just above 1.62%. Yields move inversely to prices.

Enjoyed this article?
For exclusive stock picks, investment ideas and CNBC global livestream
Sign up for CNBC Pro
Start your free trial now