Market Snapshot: Dow futures soar 800 points as investors pin hope on Gilead coronavirus treatment and U.S. reopening

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Stock-index futures Thursday night were trading sharply higher, possibly setting the stage for a powerful rally for markets to end the week if the gains hold through tomorrow, amid progress toward a treatment for the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has infected more than 2 million people worldwide.

Investors may also be drawing a modicum of hope from guidelines recently issued by the Trump administration to restart the economy at some point.

What are major indexes doing?

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average YM00, +3.74% were up 805 points, or 3.4%, at 24,208, while S&P 500 futures ES00, +3.33% have gained 82.10 points, or 3%, at 2,869.75. Nasdaq-100 futures NQ00, +2.26% advanced 169.50 points, or 1.9%, at 8.903.75.

Stocks ended a choppy session on the positive side of the ledger Thursday, with the Nasdaq Composite COMP, +1.65% leading the way to end at 8,532.36, up 139.19 points, or 1.7%. The Dow DJIA, +0.14% rose 33.33 points, or 0.1%, to finish at 23,537.68, while the S&P SPX, +0.58% added 16.19 points, or 0.6%, to end at 2,799.55.

What’s driving the market?

Early gains in thinly traded index futures were being partly attributed to a report from health-care media site Stat News that indicated promising results from therapeutics used to treat COVID-19, the disease derived from the novel strain of coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, and has claimed more than 140,000 lives across the globe.

University of Chicago Medicine researchers said they saw “rapid recoveries” in 125 COVID-19 patients taking Gilead Sciences Inc.’s GILD, +2.55% experimental drug remdesivir as part of a clinical trial, according to a Thursday afternoon report.

The results have grabbed the attention of Wall Street because there are no vaccines for the potentially fatal illness, and any signs of progress toward a treatment have the potential to elicit a bit of euphoria from investors who have been rocked by the economic shock that has resulted from efforts to slow down the spread of the contagion.

More than 22 million people have lost their jobs over the past month, according to weekly data from the Labor Department, likely lifting the unemployment rate to around 15% from 3.5% in February.

See:Coronavirus erases almost all the 23 million new jobs created since the 2007-09 recession

However, even though remdesivir is considered a front-runner to help treat COVID-19, the results represent a very small sample and aren’t based on full clinical-trial data.

That fact may not dim the prospects for investors, however.

Optimism around a treatment came as President Donald Trump late Thursday outlined a three-phase process to restarting the U.S. economy that puts the onus on states.

“America wants to be open, and Americans want to be open,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday, adding later, “We must have a working economy, and we want to get it back very, very quickly.”

There is no direct timetable assigned to the guidelines, but under the first phase, movie theaters, restaurants, sports venues, places of worship, gyms and other venues could reopen. Meanwhile, nonessential travel, bars, and schools could be restarted with limitations in the second phase; while further restrictions would be slowly phased out in the final stage.

On top of the news on the public-health front, Boeing Co. BA, -8.04%, which tumbled 8% in regular trade on Thursday, saw its shares pop in after-hours action after the aeronautics manufacturer and defense contractor said it would resume making planes. The company has been under crushing pressure due to the coronavirus outbreak and the grounding of its 737 Max fleet.

The economic calendar on Friday is light, featuring only April leading economic indicators at 10 a.m. Eastern.

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