Stocks rise worldwide, lifted by hopes for virus progress

Stocks around the world rose on Friday as investors latched onto strands of hope about progress in the fight against the coronavirus.

The S&P 500 was up 1.6% in midday trading, though the gains faded a bit from the start. It followed up on jumps of better than 2% in Europe and Asia. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 1.7% and the NASDAQ ticked up 0.6%.

Gilead Sciences jumped 12% following a report that one of its drugs was reducing fevers in patients at a single hospital. Its stock began jumping in after-hours trading Thursday following the report’s release.

“There’s still a great deal we don’t know, and thus we hesitate to put too much into the results generated at a single center without a control group,” analysts at J.P.Morgan wrote in a report. “That said, we’re not overly surprised by the sharp after hours move higher given the amount of hope the market (and society at large) are putting into these types of countermeasures.”

The gains came even as scary data piles up about the economic and human toll of the virus, which has killed more than 146,000 worldwide and forced the formerly high-flying Chinese economy to shrink an eye-watering 6.8% last quarter. A measure of U.S leading economic indicators plunged last month by the most in its 60-year history, the latest in a string of similarly unprecedented data reports.

The stock market tries to set prices now for where corporate profits and business conditions will be months in the future, and some investors are focusing on the possibility that parts of the economy could reopen, even if not soon, rather than on the current dismal data. The S&P 500 is on pace for its first back-to-back weekly gain since the market began to sell off in February.

“Just having that light at the end of the tunnel is what people really want to see,” said J.J. Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade.

He and many other analysts caution that the recent rally may have been overdone, though, and the market will likely remain volatile. Any improvement in the economy will likely be gradual.

“There‘s the opportunity for a big letdown when we get back to work that things aren’t humming immediately,” Kinahan said.

Among the wisps of optimism that investors were focusing on Friday:

— A news report cited early progress in a drug candidate for the virus. Analysts cautioned that much of the encouraging data was only anecdotal, and they were hesitant to put too much stock in it.

— President Donald Trump unveiled guidelines late Thursday for states to follow as they reopen their economies following widespread shutdowns to slow the spread of the virus.

— Boeing, one of the stocks hardest-hit by the pandemic, said late Thursday that it will resume production of passenger jets in Washington state next week. It suspended work late last month after workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

Together, the developments helped lift markets. The S&P 500 index had been up as much as 2.2% earlier in the morning. Fridays have been particularly shaky in recent weeks, as investors look to sell instead of holding stocks through the weekend when more bad news could pile up.

In a sign of caution in the market, Treasury yields remain extremely low. The yield on the 10-year Treasury dipped to 0.60% from 0.61% late Thursday. Bond yields drop when their prices rise, and investors tend to buy Treasurys when they’re worried about the economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 365 points, to 23,906, driven largely by an 12.3% surge for Boeing.

The S&P 500 is up more than 26% since hitting a low on March 23, with the most recent gains coming from budding hopes that the pandemic may be leveling off in some of the world’s hardest-hit areas. The rally started after the U.S. government and Federal Reserve promised massive aid for the economy.

But the S&P 500 is still down roughly 16% from the record set in February as numbers roll in and show the cataclysmic damage being done to the economy. Roughly 22 million U.S. workers have lost their jobs in the last month as businesses shut down. Banks are bracing for consumers and businesses to default on billions of dollars in loans and no one can say for sure when the economy will get back to anything approximating “normal.”

In European trading, the CAC 40 in Paris rose 3.1%, while Germany’s DAX climbed 2.9%. Britain’s FTSE 100 added 2.6%.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index jumped 3.1%, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong advanced 1.6% and South Korea’s Kospi surged 3.1%.

India’s S&P BSE 100 rose 2.8% after the central bank cut its benchmark interest rate to help the stalled economy and ease financing troubles amid a nationwide lockdown to fight the pandemic.

“Human spirit is ignited by the resolve to curb the pandemic. It is during our darkest moments that we must focus on the light,” said Reserve Bank of India Gov. Shaktikanta Das.

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