US stocks end higher as markets monitor virus

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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Jan 29, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street stocks finished higher on Thursday (Jan 30), advancing after the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus an international emergency but did not recommend restrictions on the movement of people.

Stocks had spent much of the session in the red, but pushed higher on the WHO announcement, a sign "the worst-case scenario was off the table" as far as what the international body might recommend, said Patrick O'Hare of Briefing.com.

The market's reaction "might seem counterintuitive," O'Hare added, but by not recommending restrictions on people and goods, the emergency announcement "seemingly helped reduce concerns that other countries, particularly large developed economies, might follow China's lead in also restricting the movement of people and goods."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.4 per cent to finish the day at 28,859.44.

The broad-based S&P 500 advanced 0.3 per cent to close at 3,283.66, and the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index also rose 0.3 per cent to 9,298.93.

The gains came on a heavy day for earnings and as the Commerce Department reported that US growth for 2019 came in at 2.3 per cent, a solid level, but the slowest since 2016.

Among individual companies, Tesla rocketed up 10.3 per cent as fourth-quarter earnings topped expectations and the company characterised 2019 as a "turning point" after years of losses.

The electric-car maker plans to deliver more than a half million vehicles in 2020, 36 per cent more than 2019.

But Facebook plunged 6.1 per cent despite reporting higher quarterly profits. Analysts cited slowing growth and disappointment with elements of the company's forecast.

Cigarette maker Altria slumped 4.3 per cent after announcing a US$4.1 billion (S$5.5 billion) write-down of its Juul investment, further slashing the value of the once high-flying e-cigarette company, which faces lawsuits and a regulatory crackdown.

Among other companies reporting results, Microsoft gained 2.8 per cent, Coca-Cola jumped 3.3 per cent, Mondelez surged 7.8 per cent and UPS fell 6.8 per cent.

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