Stocks pulled lower early Friday, as Wall Street’s first reaction to President Donald Trump’s testing positive for the coronavirus was to retrench.
The S&P 500 was down 0.6% in late-morning trading, and a measure of fear among investors was on the rise. But the moves weren’t close to as chaotic as earlier this year, when markets were first selling off on coronavirus fears. Stocks were also paring their earlier losses, with the S&P 500 more than halving its 1.7% drop from shortly after trading began.
The Dow Jones industrial average actually bounced back to positive territory in the early afternoon after earlier being down 433 points. The Nasdaq composite was 1.1% lower.
“To say this potentially could be a big deal is an understatement,” Rabobank said in a commentary. “Anyway, everything now takes a backseat to the latest incredible twist in this U.S. election campaign.”
Analysts said some of the market’s movements could be explained by investors building up expectations for a Joe Biden victory of the White House, with Election Day a little more than a month away. That could mean higher tax rates and tighter regulations on companies, which would limit profits and hurt stock prices.
But analysts said a Democratic election sweep could also improve the odds for a big rescue package for the economy, one that investors call crucial and one that has been stymied so far by partisanship in Washington. That would provide a boost to markets.
Also stirring up the market’s movements Friday was the latest report on U.S. jobs growth, which is usually the headline economic data of each month. Employers added fewer jobs last month than economists expected, the third straight month of slowing hiring.
Other reports on the economy were more mixed. Consumer sentiment was stronger for September than economists expected, which is key because their spending drives the bulk of the economy. Orders for machinery and other long-lasting goods also strengthened by more than expected in August, but growth in factory orders fell short of forecasts.
All the uncertainty is making an already shaky market even more so. Stocks have swung through turbulent trading recently amid a raft of open questions for investors: Who will win the election, and what will it mean for the economy? Will the relationship between the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China, keep worsening? Did stocks get too expensive after their 60% surge to record heights through the summer?
In recent days, the dominant question has been whether Washington will be able to get past its partisanship to deliver more aid to the economy.
Extra benefits for laid-off workers and other support for the economy that Congress approved in March has expired, and investors have been clamoring for more assistance. Layoffs have remained stubbornly high across the country, and parts of the economy have slowed with the support from Congress gone.
The House of Representatives passed a Democratic $2.2 trillion package Thursday night, but it has little chance of getting through the Republican Senate. Talks between Democrats and Republicans on a compromise are continuing, but skepticism is high.
Trump’s positive COVID-19 test also highlights the continued spread of the pandemic. The White House physician said the president is expected to continue carrying out his duties “without disruption” while recovering.
But the potential for a further ramp up in infections as the weather turns colder is raising worries that governments may put some more restrictions on businesses.