NEW YORK/LONDON - A Wall Street rally powered global gains in stocks on Thursday despite a record number of new unemployment filings in the United States, as traders focused on the unanimous passage of a US$2 trillion coronavirus relief bill in the US Senate and the possibility that there is more stimulus to come.
The legislation is intended to flood the country with cash in a bid to stem the crushing impact the epidemic has already had on the world’s largest economy. Nearly 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits over the past week, eclipsing the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982. The bill is heading for the House of Representatives for a vote on Friday.
“In less than two weeks, we have moved from full employment to a number of job destruction we have never experienced in a period of peace,” wrote Christopher Dembik, head of macro analysis at Saxo Bank.
Earlier on Thursday, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the US economy is likely in recession already but that reopening businesses should be dictated by the control of the virus’ spread, in contrast to the urging by some of US President Donald Trump’s advisers for a faster reopening. The president himself has said he wants the economy to be “roaring” by Easter, in a little over two weeks.
Mnuchin said the central bank would lend “aggressively” to ensure the economy can withstand the sudden sharp drop in activity, with an expected US$424 billion commitment from the US Treasury to cover any losses, allowing the Fed to unleash perhaps US$4 trillion for credit to “Main Street.”
The astronomical number of jobless filings left some wondering if the stimulus package, despite its size, would be enough.
“If these numbers continue for three or four weeks, there will be demand for more fiscal support,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.
She said the stock market reaction would suggest “that market participants expect a larger stimulus package or fiscal package from the government than the US$2 trillion that has been agreed upon.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1,115.19 points, or 5.26 percent, to 22,315.74, the S&P 500 gained 118.5 points, or 4.79 percent, to 2,594.06 and the Nasdaq Composite added 303.84 points, or 4.11 percent, to 7,688.13.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.66 percent and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 3.56 percent.
Global markets have lost about a quarter of their value in the last six weeks of virus-driven selling.
While markets have found a measure of sustenance as governments and central banks launch unprecedented support measures, investors have struggled to work out how bad the coronavirus impact would be.
“No-one is sure how long things are going to be locked down for, how wide the virus will spread in the US, what the death toll and hit on the economy will look like,” said Salman Baig, portfolio manager at Unigestion.
The combination of the massive jobless claims and stimulus dragged the dollar lower.
The dollar index fell 1.222 percent, with the euro up 1.19 percent to US$1.101.
The Japanese yen strengthened 1.52 percent versus the greenback at 109.57 per dollar, while Sterling was last trading at US$1.2075, up 1.60 percent on the day.
“Although the latest Fed measures have helped calm markets, as long as the COVID-19 crisis continues and the world economy is effectively in lockdown, we would expect markets to remain in turmoil,” foreign exchange analysts at Bank of America said in a report on Thursday.
The softer greenback buoyed emerging market currencies, with MSCI’s index touching a one-week high.
Oil fell as fears of plunging demand outweighed expectations of support from the US stimulus.
US crude recently fell 4.08 percent to US$23.49 per barrel and Brent was recently at US$27.16, down 0.84 percent on the day.
Prices on US Treasury bonds rose but yields traded relatively tightly and within the week’s range, suggesting the market had already priced in expectations for abysmal data.
Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 14/32 in price to yield 0.8128 percent, from 0.856 percent late on Wednesday. The 30-year bond last rose 43/32 in price to yield 1.37 percent, from 1.421 percent late on Wednesday.
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