U.S. stock indexes were trading mostly lower Thursday as investors turn cautious given the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic which is starting to cause renewed restrictions on business activity.
Economic data suggests a slow U.S. recovery remains on track, while Wall Street waits for more news on vaccine development and comments from Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell at an ECB conference Thursday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded off 96 points, or 0.3%, lower at about 29,303; the S&P 500 index declined by about 6 points to reach roughly 3,566, a drop of 0.2%; while the Nasdaq Composite Index was trading 0.4% higher at 11,829, a gain of 44 points.
On Wednesday, the Dow ended lower by 23.29 points, or 0.1%, at 29,339.54, snapping a 2-day win streak. The S&P 500 index advanced 27.17 points to close at 3,572.72, notching a gain of 0.8%, its second-highest close ever. The Nasdaq Composite surged 232.57 points, or 2%, to finish at 11,786.43, snapping its 2-day losing streak.
Hopes for a vaccine against the coronavirus is being pitted against the near-term reality of a significant rise in cases and hospitalizations in parts of the U.S. which has triggered the reimplementation of fresh social-distancing measures that could endanger a tepid economic rebound.
Indiana saw a single-day rise of more than 5,000 cases for the first time, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. Other states recorded all-time highs, including Illinois, North Carolina, Colorado, Kentucky, Arkansas, Idaho, New Mexico and West Virginia. In the past week, the U.S. has averaged 128,081 cases a day, up 69% from the average two weeks ago and cases are rising in 49 states and territories
The resurgence of the pandemic has prompted a number of states to reimpose restrictions on consumer and business activity. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that bars and restaurants with state liquor licenses must close at 10 p.m., and said indoor gatherings must be limited to 10 people, as cases in the state reached the highest level since April, while the positive rate of infection approached a 3% threshold that would force schools to shut down.
Against that backdrop, investors appear ready to revert to a trading strategy that has thus far worked this year: buy large-capitalization technology stocks that benefit from the stay-at-home trend.
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“With case counts continuing to climb and winter approaching, the prospects for targeted rollbacks and new lockdowns continue to rise,” wrote Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at SIA Wealth Management, in a daily note.
The move to return to the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite and Nasdaq-100 indexes comes despite positive vaccine news on Monday from partners Pfizer and BioNTech that indicated a Phase 3 study of an experimental remedy for COVID-19 had 90% efficacy, emboldening buying in stocks that have been beaten down during the worst of the pandemic. The week’s reversion to buying growth stocks may dash some hopes for a rotation into so-called value stocks.
Late Wednesday, Moderna Inc. said the first batch of data from its late-stage test of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine was ready for analysis.
In economic reports, U.S. jobless benefit claims fell 48,000 to 709,000 in early November, and continuing jobless claims in states dropped 436,000 to 6.79 million.
“The fall in weekly jobless claims shows the economic recovery still remains in place, even though jobless claims remain elevated,” wrote Kenny Polcari, managing partner, Kace Capital Advisors, in an emailed note on Thursday.
“Rising COVID-19 cases nationwide and the possibility of additional lockdowns could threaten the jobs recovery we’ve seen over the past few months,” he added.
Polcari said that political risk still remains an issue for markets, with Senate races in Georgia, which could determine the complexion of Republican and Democratic majorities.
” While a Democratic control of the Senate will likely cause a short-term market pullback, especially after the recent rally, once this uncertainty is removed, the overall direction of the market is likely higher,” the investment manager said.
Meanwhile, a measure of the annual rate of U.S. inflation, the consumer-price index, rose 1.2% in October, down from 1.4% in the prior month. Core CPI, excluding volatile food and energy prices, also retreated, rising 1.6%, down from 1.7% in the prior period.
Comments from Powell also will be closely followed as the Fed Chairman speaks on an ECB panel Thursday during an online forum.
The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note retreated to around 0.910% on Thursday, from around 0.98% on Tuesday. The bond market was closed in observance of Veterans Day on Wednesday. Yields and bond prices move in opposite directions.
The pan-European Stoxx 600 Europe Index was trading 0.8% lower as London’s FTSE 100 fell 1.3%.
Oil futures were rising, with the U.S. benchmark rising 0.7% at $41.74 a barrel. Gold prices were trading modestly higher, with the December contract gaining 0.7%, or $12.10, at $1,873.70 an ounce.
The ICE U.S. Dollar Index a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, was off less than 0.1% at 92.995.
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