July 20, 2020 / 10:56 AM / 14 days ago

Wall Street closes higher, Nasdaq sets record as potential vaccines show promise

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street gained ground on Monday and surging technology shares pushed the Nasdaq to a record closing high, as promising trial results from potential COVID-19 vaccines helped investors look beyond spiraling new cases of the disease.

Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) provided the biggest boosts to the Nasdaq and the S&P500, but industrials retreated, capping the Dow’s nominal gains.

Deaths in the United States from COVID-19 passed the 140,000 mark over the weekend, as cases continued to rise in 42 of 50 states.

Trials of potential vaccines have shown promise. Most recently, drugs from AstraZenica (AZN.L), CanSino Biologics Inc (6185.HK) and from a partnership between Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and German biotech firm BioNTech (BNTX.O) were safely administered and induced immune responses.

“Developments on COVID, positive or negative, have become the new risk-on/risk-off binary trigger for the market,” said Joseph Sroka, chief investment officer at NovaPoint in Atlanta. “A year ago it was trade.”

“In the next few weeks there will start to be risk assessments made on how the size of the next round of financial stimulus,” Sroka added.

The U.S. Congress, still looking to mitigate the pandemic’s economic effects, was set for a week of partisan wrangling over a new relief package, with two weeks until enhanced jobless benefits expire for millions of Americans.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 8.92 points, or 0.03%, to 26,680.87, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 27.11 points, or 0.84%, to 3,251.84 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 263.90 points, or 2.51%, to 10,767.09.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, consumer discretionary .SPLRCD and tech .SPLRCT enjoyed the largest percentage gains.

Second-quarter earnings season chugged along. Some 48 companies in the S&P 500 have posted results, with 77.1% of those beating consensus, according to Refinitiv data.

In aggregate, analysts now expect S&P 500 second-quarter earnings to have dropped 43.2% year-on-year, per Refinitiv.

Shares of Halliburton Co (HAL.N) rose 2.5% after the company posted a surprise adjusted quarterly profit and better-than-expected cash flow due to cost-cutting.

Noble Energy Inc (NBL.O) advanced 5.4% on news that Chevron Corp (CVX.N) agreed to buy the oil and gas producer for $5 billion.

Chevron dropped 2.2%.

Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) shares tumbled 12.8% on positive results from its competitors’ rival COVID-19 drug trials.

Electric automaker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) rose 9.5% to reach a record closing high of $1,643.

Shares of International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N) were up over 5% in post-market trading after the company’s adjusted earnings came in above analyst expectations.

FILE PHOTO: Traders wearing masks work, on the first day of in-person trading since the closure during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.09-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.11-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 41 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 122 new highs and 12 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 9.96 billion shares, compared with the 11.31 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by David Gregorio

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