Business

Shares open upper as buyers eye coronavirus trends

Stocks rose Wednesday morning after a volatile session the prior day. Investors continued to monitor coronavirus developments, and early reports that the government was beginning to consider exit plans to restart businesses closed due to the outbreak.

Investors this week have been tracking mixed to slightly more positive developments in the coronavirus pandemic, with hotspots including New York and Italy showing improving trends in new cases and hospitalizations, even as new deaths for the Empire State rose by the largest number since the outbreak began on Tuesday.

Politicians in other virus-stricken regions were less upbeat, however, with the France’s health minister warning Tuesday the country had not yet hit its peak in the outbreak.

Improving coronavirus case data and momentary risk rally aside, many analysts maintain that it would be premature to assume volatility will calm in the markets in the very near-term.

“It is way too soon to signal an all-clear for the markets.,” Neil Dutta, head of economics at Renaissance Macro Research, said in an email Tuesday. “First, as the news on the health front gets better, the news on the economic front will likely get much worse.”

Coronavirus around the world, as of Wednesday morning.

Eight out of 10 U.S. counties are under some form of lockdown order amid the pandemic, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/Moody’s Analytics study, with the bulk of those seeing billions of dollars worth of lost output daily as businesses stay shuttered. And the impact of these shutdowns will soon be reflected in economic reports released in the coming weeks.

“April’s economic data will be a tough pill to swallow with monthly GDP [gross domestic product] likely contracting 50% at an annual rate,” Dutta said. “Next week, we get March retail sales and a couple of regional PMIs for April.”

He added that when social distancing measures do eventually ease, ultimately, “‘opening up’ the economy sounds much easier in theory than it will be in practice.”

“It is not a switch, but a process,” Dutta said.

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Still, other prominent investors noted that the time of extreme panic may be in the past at this point, creating an opportunity for less drastically defensive positioning for market participants.

“Investors who favored defense over offense have experienced smaller losses this year, have the satisfaction that comes from relative outperformance, and are able to spend more of their time looking for bargains than dealing with legacy problems,” Howard Marks, co-founder and co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management, wrote in a letter to clients Tuesday. “Thus, I feel it’s a time when previously cautious investors can reduce their overemphasis on defense and begin to move toward a more neutral position or even toward offense (depending on how sure they want to be of grasping early opportunities.”

“I’m not saying the outlook is positive,” he added. “I’m saying conditions have changed such that caution is no longer as imperative.”

9:33 a.m. ET: Stocks rise, shaking off Tuesday’s volatility

Stocks kicked off Wednesday’s session higher after late-day declines wiped out Tuesday’s intraday gains.

The Energy sector led gains the S&P 500, with crude oil on track to snap back-to-back days of declines. Boeing and American Express led the Dow higher.

Here were the main moves in markets, as of 9:33 a.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): +27.1 points (+1.02%) to 2,686.51

  • Dow (^DJI): +239.32 points (+1.06%) to 22,893.18

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): +90.44 points (+1.12%) to 7,973.79

  • Crude (CL=F): +$0.76 (+3.22%) to $24.39 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): +$3.70 (+0.22%) to $1,687.40 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +2.1 bps to yield 0.755%

9:18 a.m. ET: McDonald’s 1Q comparable sales dropped 3.4% as coronavirus outbreak hit March results

Dow component McDonald’s said its first-quarter comparable sales fell 3.4% over last year for the quarter ended March 31, as a steep drop in March sales dragged down results over the first two months of the period.

Consensus analysts expected McDonald’s to report a 0.91% same-store sales drop for the quarter, according to Refinitiv data, although these estimates may not reflect the full impact of the recent escalation in the coronavirus outbreak.

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In the U.S., same-store sales dropped 13.4% in March after rising 8.1% for the two months ended February 29, leading to a net 0.1% rise in same-store sales for the full quarter. In the same quarter last year, comp sales rose 4.5%.

For McDonald’s international operated markets, same-store sales dropped off even more steeply in March relative to the start of the quarter. Same-store sales dropped 34.7% after rising 8.5% in the two months ended February 29, leading to a net 6.9% drop for the full first quarter.

McDonald’s withdrew its outlook for 2020 amid coronavirus-related uncertainty.

“While the disruption means our business is faced with immediate challenges, we believe our agility has positioned us well to adapt and continue to serve customers where it is safe to do so,” CEO Chris Kempczinski said in a statement. “Approximately 75% of our restaurants around the world are operational, the majority of which have adapted to focus on Drive-thru, Delivery, and/or Take-away.”

Shares of McDonald’s fell about 0.5% in early trading to $174.58 each.

8:30 a.m. ET: Futures add to gains, Dow futures rise 200+ points

Stock futures added to gains with an hour to go until the opening bell. Each of the three major indices was at least 1.2% higher, with contracts on the Nasdaq outperforming at a 1.33% gain.

Pre-market gains in shares of Boeing led Dow futures higher. Meanwhile, travel and leisure names including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Lines and American Airlines led early gains in the S&P 500, paring some of this year’s steep declines amid the outbreak.

7:18 a.m. ET: Stock futures pace toward higher open

Here were the main moves in markets, as of 7:18 a.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): up 14 points, or 0.53% to 2,656.00

  • Dow futures (YM=F): up 120 points, or 0.53% to 22,611.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): up 55.5 points, or 0.69% to 8,067.50

  • Crude (CL=F): +$0.82 (+3.47%) to $24.45 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): -$1.10 (-0.07%) to $1,682.60 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +1.1 bps to yield 0.745%

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7:00 a.m. ET Wednesday: Mortgage applications sank last week as unemployment drags on housing market

An index of mortgage loan applications fell 17.9% for the week ended April 3 from the prior week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly survey.

Within this headline index, the subindex tracking refinances fell 19% versus the prior week, but was still 144% higher than the comparable week a year ago as interest rates broadly came down.

Purchases, however, fell both relative to the prior week and comparable period last year. The subindex dropped 12% from the previous week and was 33% lower than the same week last year.

“Mortgage applications fell last week, as economic weakness and the surge in unemployment continues to weigh heavily on the housing market. Purchase activity declined again, with the index dropping to its lowest level since 2015 and now down 33 percent compared to a year ago,” Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, said in a statement.

“With much less liquidity and tighter credit in the jumbo market, average loan sizes declined, and mortgage rates for jumbo loans increased to a high last seen in January,” Kan added.

6:01 p.m. ET Tuesday: Stock futures open roughly flat

Here were the main moves at the start of the overnight session for U.S. equity futures, as of 6:02 p.m. ET on Tuesday:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): down 1.25 points, or 0.05% to 2,640.75

  • Dow futures (YM=F): down 18 points, or 0.08% to 22,473.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): down 5.75 points, or 0.07% to 8,006.25

The empty Trading Floor of the NYSE after the market has closed.

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