NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are pushing higher in afternoon trading Thursday as another day of wild swings on Wall Street heads into its last hour of trading.
In a microcosm of the sharp volatility the coronavirus pandemic has caused for months, the S&P 500 rallied to a gain of as much as 1.6% in the morning before erasing all of it within a span of seconds. Stocks flipped between gains and losses during the afternoon, before the S&P 500 returned to a 0.4% gain, as of 3:13 p.m. Eastern time.
It’s the latest example of the fragility of the hope among investors that that has driven a rally of 25% for the S&P 500 over the last month — hope that parts of the economy may be able to reopen soon, hope that massive aid from the Federal Reserve and Congress can help temper the deep recession ahead and hope that possible treatments for COVID-19 may be on the way.
Somehow, meanwhile, a report showing that another 4.4 million U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week got shoved to the background amid all the tumult.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 238 points, or 1%, at 23,714 after trimming an earlier gain of 409 points. The Nasdaq composite was up 0.8%.
The stock market got off to its hot start early after energy stocks climbed with the price of oil, which for a second straight day pulled further from zero after getting upended earlier in the week.
Investors were also looking ahead to the prospect of businesses reopening as infections level off in hard-hit areas around the world.
Las Vegas Sands jumped 12.2% for one of the largest gains in the S&P 500 after executives said travel restrictions in Macau, where the casino operator gets the bulk of its revenue, could begin to ease in May or June.
The House is also set to vote Thursday on another nearly $500 billion in small-business loans and aid for hospitals, a proposal the Senate approved earlier this week. The Federal Reserve and Congress have promised trillions of dollars in aid for the economy and markets, which helped launch the market’s rally in late March.
All that helped investors on Thursday to initially look past yet more dismal reports on the global economy.
Preliminary data on manufacturing and services activity in Europe and the United States came in even weaker than economists expected. A report on sales of new U.S. homes also fell more sharply than economists had forecast. The headliner, though, was the report showing that 26 million people have filed for jobless aid over the last five weeks, or about one in six U.S. workers.
Analysts said investors may have found some bit of encouragement in that last week’s number of jobless applications dipped slightly from the prior week, down to 4.4 million from 5.2 million. Plus, investors were fully expecting to see such terrible numbers.
”Numbers for the short term, when they’re reported, it’s almost like a sigh of relief that they aren’t higher,” said Scott Wren, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.
What got stocks to turn suddenly lower were news reports with data that investors saw as discouraging about a clinical trial conducted in China for a potential treatment of COVID-19. Shares of the company behind the medicine, Gilead Sciences, sank 3.1% after earlier being up 3.3%.
Many professional investors have been warning that the market’s rally this past month, which has been built on hope and not on actual economic data, has been overdone. There is still too much uncertainty about how long the recession will last, they say, and premature openings of the economy could trigger yet more waves of infections.
In Europe, Germany’s DAX returned 0.9%, France’s CAC 40 gained 0.9% and the FTSE 100 in London added 1%. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 jumped 1.5%, South Korea’s Kospi gained 1% and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong added 0.4%.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury dipped to 0.60% from 0.61% late Wednesday. Yields tend to fall when investors are downgrading their expectations for the economy and inflation ahead.
U.S. crude oil for delivery in June rose 19.7% to settle at $16.50 a barrel. It has recovered after falling below $12 Monday, though it remains well below the roughly $60 level it started the year at.
Brent crude, the international standard, rose 4.7% to $31.33 a barrel.
That helped energy stocks jump to the biggest gains among the 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500. Apache, Devon Energy and Halliburton each rose more than 8% Thursday. All three, though, remain down more than 57% so far this year.