Stocks surge amid signs of coronavirus outbreak easing

Stocks rallied on some signs that the coronavirus outbreak is either leveling off or easing, with traders assessing the first reports of the cloudy corporate earnings season.

The S&P 500 jumped to a one-month high while giant technology companies pushed the NASDAQ 100 through its 50-, 100- and 200-day moving averages. Johnson & Johnson surged after posting stronger sales and boosting its quarterly dividend. Meanwhile, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. slumped as their profits were hit by major provisions. Treasuries rose, the U.S. dollar retreated against its major peers and oil tumbled.

The S&P 500 climbed 3.1%, to 2,846 points. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 558 points, or 2.4%, to 23,949. And the NASDAQ jumped nearly 4%, to 8,515.

Equities extended gains after a report that President Donald Trump will make some “important announcements” in the next few days regarding state guidelines on reopening the economy. Separately, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said a May 1 target to reopen is “a bit overly optimistic” for many areas of the country.

As the earnings season gets underway, investors will get a sense of how bad the pandemic could hit global companies. The International Monetary Fund said the “Great Lockdown” recession would be the steepest in almost a century and warned the world economy’s contraction and recovery would be worse than anticipated if the coronavirus lingers or returns. Traders also focused on whether trillions of dollars in stimulus and rescue plans will sustain the rally in risk assets amid uncertain corporate profits.

“This will be a unique earnings season,” Tom Essaye, a former Merrill Lynch trader who founded the “Sevens Report” newsletter, wrote in a note. “But it remains critically important because it’ll give us microeconomic insight into the question of ‘How bad is the damage?’ – which remains the single most important question we all need to answer to successfully navigate this market over the medium and longer term.”

Investor pessimism over the pandemic’s economic damage is at “extreme” levels with cash positions at the highest since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a Bank of America survey.

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