S&P 500 closes at 10-week high on coronavirus vaccine hopes, stimulus pledge

The benchmark S&P 500 was on track for its biggest one-day percentage gain in more than a month. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US stocks jumped on Monday (May 18), and the S&P 500 closed at a 10-week high, on encouraging early-stage data for a potential coronavirus vaccine and on the promise of more stimulus to lift an economy beaten down by the pandemic.

Drugmaker Moderna Inc surged after the company said its experimental Covid-19 vaccine showed promising results in a small early stage trial.

After surging more than 32% from a multi-year low hit in March, the S&P 500 had been trading in a tight range in May as investors weighed the hopes of an economic recovery against the fears of another wave of infection as states lifted virus-led restrictions.

"The fact that Moderna came out with the Phase 1 trial that seems to be positive, that certainly is igniting the storm,"said Ken Polcari, chief market strategist at SlateStone Wealth LLC in Jupiter, Florida. "That will ignite the storm because if there is a vaccine then all this uncertainty about the economy and the virus goes away."

Stocks that have been particularly battered by government lockdown measures implemented to stem the spread of the coronavirus surged on Monday.

Travel-related stocks were among the biggest gainers, with cruise line operators Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd all outperforming the broader market. Airline stocks also soared as Delta Air Lines said it would resume flying several major routes in June.

Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 911.95 points, or 3.85%, to 24,597.37, the S&P 500 gained 90.21 points, or 3.15%, to 2,953.91, and the Nasdaq Composite added 220.27 points, or 2.44%, to 9,234.83.

Markets also took heart from comments by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell over the weekend forecasting a gradual economic recovery and his affirmation that more monetary stimulus would be on the way if required.

Powell is set to speak before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday to discuss how economic rescue efforts are working.

Cyclical plays were in favor with the energy and industrial sectors climbing as a gradual recovery in economic activity pointed to more demand for oil and manufactured products.

Still, stocks that are poised to benefit the most from a restart of the economy continue to lag those whose businesses have weathered the restrictions or even grown as a result of the lockdowns.

The S&P 500 growth index has outperformed the S&P value index by about 4 percentage points this month.

General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co rose as both started to reopen their North American factories in a push to restart work in an industry that accounts for about 6% of US economic activity and employs nearly 1 million people in the United States.

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