Stocks rose Thursday as oil’s biggest one-day rally on record eased concern about financial and job losses in the energy sector.
It was a volatile session as investors weighed a massive spike in unemployment claims that showed the growing negative impact shutdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus are having on the economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 469.93 points higher, or 2.2%, at 21,413.44. The S&P 500 was up 2.3% at 2,526.90 while the Nasdaq Composite climbed 1.7% to 7,487.31. At its session high, the Dow was up 534 points, or more than 2%. At its low of the day it was down more than 200 points.
President Donald Trump told CNBC’s Joe Kernen he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, adding he expects both countries to cut production by about 10 million barrels. Those comments sent U.S. crude prices up 24% for their best session on record. There were, however, concerns that both countries would follow through on production cuts of that magnitude.
Trump later tweeted about his conversations with Putin and MBS.
Traders have been closely watching oil because of its influence over other financial markets. The oil losses have been so big, that they have caused investors to sell other assets to cover their losses in crude. Plus, the 58% decline in oil this year is hurting the U.S. shale industry, a big driver of the economy and employment.
Chevron and Exxon Mobil led the Dow higher, gaining 11% and 7.7%, respectively. The S&P 500 energy sector rallied 9.1%.
Wall Street’s gains came despite the Labor Department reporting more than 6 million people filed for unemployment benefits in the week of March 27, a record. Economists expected another 4 million to 5 million workers filed for jobless claims last week as coronavirus-related shutdowns roll through the country. The estimates ranged as high as 9 million.
“The news is terrible and I’m not sure why the estimates the past two weeks have been so far off but we all know how rough things are,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. “The only question it seems is timing. The timing of when that freaking curve bends and when we as a society decide to shift to a life resumption plan, masks included.”
Thursday’s wild moves follow steep losses in the previous session. The major averages all fell more than 4% on Wednesday, pressured by comments from Trump, who said the U.S. should prepare for a “very, very painful two weeks.” White House officials are projecting between 100,000 and 240,000 virus deaths in the U.S.
“The [S&P 500] wasted no time proving that a new month and quarter were not going to alter the volatility that we grew so accustomed to recently,” said Frank Cappelleri, executive director at Instinet.
The coronavirus outbreak, which sent global markets tumbling in the first quarter, continues to act as a headwind for the market as investors grapple with the ongoing uncertainty around how long the economy will be closed.
The major stock averages are all down more than 20% year to date and are deep in bear market territory.
“While we have not seen announcements yet, dividend cuts could be on the horizon for U.S. companies,” said New York Life Investments multi-asset portfolio strategist Lauren Goodwin.
“With a heavy hit to revenues, businesses may opt to prioritize employees and lower borrowing loads over paying dividends. This could present a risk for equities. Announcements of temporary (1-2 quarters) of dividend cuts could be priced in, but longer cuts would likely contribute to negative sentiment,” she added.
More than 1 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed globally, with over 236,000 in the U.S. alone, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
—CNBC’s Jeff Cox and Nate Rattner contributed reporting.
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