Stocks rise as governments plan to ease virus lockdowns


By STAN CHOE and DAMIAN J. TROISE - AP Business Writers



Stocks around the world rose Monday as governments prepare to gradually lift restrictions they imposed on businesses to slow the sweep of the coronavirus pandemic.

The S&P 500 was up 1.2% in midday trading, at the start of a week chockablock with market-moving events. Several of the world’s largest central banks are meeting, including the Bank of Japan, which announced its latest stimulus measures to prop up markets.

A slew of the biggest U.S. companies are also scheduled to report how much profit they made in the first three months of 2020, including the handful that most heavily dictates how the market moves. More importantly, CEOs may also talk about how they see future conditions shaking out.

With central banks and governments promising overwhelming amounts of aid for markets and economies, some investors see a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis as unlikely. That has them looking beyond the economic devastation currently sweeping the world to the potential return of growth as the outbreak levels off in some areas.

“Investors have written off 2020 as a shocker and are looking more intently into the landscape in 2021,” Chris Weston of Pepperstone wrote in a report.

Treasury yields pushed higher in an indication of less pessimism in the market, but crude tanked again in the latest extreme swing that’s dominated oil markets in recent weeks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 277 points, or 1.2%, at 24,053, as of 11:28 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq was up 1.3%.

Some of the stocks hardest and earliest hit by the coronavirus pandemic were leading the way.

Shares of banks and other financial companies rose 2.5% for the biggest gain among the 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500. They had earlier tumbled on worries about waves of households and businesses defaulting on their loans.

The recent reopening of some businesses in the United States and a slowdown in deaths and hospitalizations in the hardest-hit state of New York helped revive them. So did a rise in Treasury yields, which can help them make bigger profits from making loans. JPMorgan Chase rose 4.6%, Bank of America gained 4% and Citigroup added 4.9%. Financial stocks, though, remain down nearly 28% for the year.

Real-estate investment trusts that own shopping malls also recovered a portion of their earlier losses as investors looked toward a future where people actually leave their houses again. Even travel stocks, which fell before the rest of the market on worries about the coronavirus outbreak, were strong.

Las Vegas Sands jumped 10% for the biggest gain in the S&P 500. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings rose 8.7%, and MGM Resorts added 8.6%,

The big gains, though, are built more on hope and optimism than on anything certain. Some investors are worried that reopenings of businesses could actually trigger a second wave of infections if they’re premature, and many warn that it’s still too uncertain how long this recession will last.

“The sense I get is people are not going to be comfortable with life as usual,” said said Marc Chaikin, founder of Chaikin Analytics. “It’s a big leap of faith to expect that earnings are going to go back to pre-2020 levels.”

“The biggest risk to the stock market is if the reopenings don’t go well,” he said. “If that were to happen, that would deflate the investment psyche.”

Asian markets began the day with gains after Japan’s central bank scrapped its ceiling on how much government debt it will buy to support the economy. The Bank of Japan also said it will buy an additional 15 trillion yen ($140 billion) of commercial paper and bank loans.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 2.7%, while South Korea’s Kospi added 1.8% and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong added 1.9%.

In Europe, Spain plans to start easing restrictions Sunday and Italy on May 4. France will announce its plans next month.

The German DAX climbed 2.6%, while the French CAC 40 rose 2.1% and the FTSE 100 in London added 1.1%.

In the U.S., roughly 150 companies in the S&P 500 are scheduled to report their first-quarter earnings this week. That includes the Big Five of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google’s parent, Alphabet, which together make up about a fifth of the index following their years of dominance.

Because the S&P 500 moved based on changes in market value, the performance of just those five companies can have outsized effects on investors’ portfolios. All five are scheduled to report this week.

Other potentially market-moving events this week include data from the United States, China, Japan, Germany and France on inflation, trade, unemployment, industrial activity and retail spending.

The Federal Reserve will likely close a two-day meeting Wednesday saying it will wait to see the effect of all the stimulus it’s already announced for the economy before adding any more, economists say. At its separate meeting, the European Central Bank “will likely keep its options for easing open,” Hayaki Narita of Mizuho Bank said in a report.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, is pressing U.S. state governors to ease controls that are meant to slow the coronavirus pandemic but are also erasing businesses and jobs..

Some states are lifting shutdown orders despite warnings that it could cause a surge in infections. Others including Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York say they want a bigger decline in new cases before rolling back curbs.

Signs of optimism are rising even in New York, though. The state hardest-hit by COVID-19 on Sunday reported the number of daily deaths had more than halved from the peak. Construction and manufacturing jobs that represent low risks for workers will be among the first to resume once New York state begins reopening after the coronavirus shutdown, Cuomo said Sunday.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 0.64% from 0.59% late Friday, pulling further from the low of 0.54% it reached last week. It’s still well below the 1.90% level it was near at the start of the year, though. Yields tend to drop when investors are downgrading their expectations for the economy and inflation.

In energy markets, the cost for a barrel of U.S. oil to be delivered in June sank 28% to $12.23 per barrel. Prices have been swinging wildly as demand for energy collapses amid the halt to global economies and as storage tanks come close to topping out.

Brent crude, the international standard, fell 8.7% to $22..66 per barrel.

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AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed.

By STAN CHOE and DAMIAN J. TROISE

AP Business Writers