Wall Street erases early loss, steady on tech stock strength

By STAN CHOE AP Business Writer

Major stock indexes were mixed on Wall Street Monday as continued strength for tech and health care stocks helped keep the market steady in afternoon trading.

The S&P 500 was up 0.4%, as of 1:36 p.m. Eastern time, after erasing an earlier loss of 0.9%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was virtually flat at 24,332, and the Nasdaq was up 1%.

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Tech stocks helped lead the way, continuing their remarkably resilient run. Even with the coronavirus pandemic throwing the global economy into disarray, tech stocks in the S&P 500 are up roughly 4% for 2020 as as investors look for companies that can be winners in both a “normal” and a stay-at-home economy.

Apple rose 1.1%, Nvidia added 3.3% to return to a record and Advanced Micro Devices climbed 4.1% for one of the day’s biggest gains in the S&P 500.

This year’s second-best sector has been health care, which has trimmed its loss for 2020 to just 1%. Biotech stocks were particularly strong Monday, with Vertex Pharmaceuticals up 4.7% and Biogen up 4.6%.

Those gains helped to make up for most stocks in the market falling to losses, including roughly two of three in the S&P 500.

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The sharpest drops were hitting companies whose profits are most closely tied to the strength of the economy, including banks and producers of chemicals and other raw materials.

Stocks have been broadly rallying in recent weeks as some investors look ahead to the possibility of a strong economic recovery later this year, after governments reopen economies and lift business-shutdown orders meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

That optimistic view took some hits Monday, as worries rose about the possibility of new waves of infections hitting countries that are further ahead in lifting lockdown measures.

In South Korea, for example, one nightclub customer has been linked to dozens of new infections. That pushed authorities to reimpose restrictions on nightclubs and bars. Investors also pointed to small but disconcerting increases of infections in China and elsewhere.

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Raw-material producers in the S&P 500 fell 1.4% for the biggest loss among the 11 sectors that make up the index. A weaker global economy wouldn’t need as many basic building blocks.

Financial stocks were also weaker than the rest of the market. They’ve been hit hard this year on worries that the recession will lead to a wave of households and businesses defaulting on their loans. Bank of America dropped 3.5%, and Citigroup lost 4.9%.

The data streaming in on the economy remain oppressively bad. After a report on Friday showed U.S. employers cut a record-setting 20.5 million jobs in April, Italy reported Monday its largest-ever drop in industrial production. More data reports this week include U.S. unemployment claims and retail sales and Australian jobs.

Companies remain uncertain about the future, with many opting to give no financial forecasts during their latest quarterly earnings reports. On Sunday, one of Latin America’s largest airlines, Chile’s Avianca, asked a New York City bankruptcy court for protection from creditors while the carrier reorganizes amid a travel slump it said has cut revenue 80%.

Even outside the possibility of a resurgence of infections, many analysts see other reasons for skepticism about the stock market’s 30% rally since late March. Strategists at Goldman Sachs said the market appears to be overlooking a drop-off in buybacks and dividends as companies look to preserve cash, the threat of more U.S.-China trade tensions and the possibility that the upcoming U.S. elections could lead to higher corporate tax rates.

Most of all, companies themselves are talking about how uncertain the recovery looks, which stands in stark relief to the quick, vigorous rebound that the stock market seems to be assuming will happen.

Earlier, Asian markets were supported somewhat by the Chinese central bank’s promise to use “more powerful” policies to support economic recovery and job creation.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 1%, while stocks in Shanghai were close to flat. South Korean stocks fell 0.5%.

In Europe, the French CAC 40 fell 1.3%, and Germany’s DAX lost 0.7%. The FTSE 100 in London edged up 0.1%.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 0.71% from 0.68% late Friday.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 1.6% to $24.35 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, dropped 2.8%, to $30.10 per barrel.


AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed.