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Wall Street ends sharply lower as pandemic fears resurge

(Reuters) - Wall Street ended sharply lower on Thursday as U.S. coronavirus infections surged and investors weighed the timeline for the mass rollout of an effective vaccine.

New York became the latest state to introduce stricter social distancing rules on Wednesday, as new infections in the country surged above 100,000 for an eighth consecutive day.

The blue-chip Dow .DJI was pulled down by industrial and financial companies sensitive to economic growth, with Boeing Co BA.N and Goldman Sachs GS.N down 3% and 1.6%, respectively.

Airlines and cruise operators, among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, also fell. The S&P 1500 airlines index .SPCOMAIR dropped 3.1%, while Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd RCL.N fell 4% and Carnival Corp CCL.N tumbled almost 8%.

“The market is reacting to the rise in COVID cases nationwide,” said Michael Antonelli, a market strategist at Baird in Milwaukee. “Vaccine news helps at some point in the future, but today we are dealing with an accelerating spread,”

Even after Thursday’s drop, the S&P 500 has gained almost 2% this week, buoyed by positive vaccine trial data that increased expectations of a quick economic recovery. Stocks have also benefited from expectations that a divided Congress will keep President-elect Joe Biden from enacting tax hikes that would hurt corporate profits.

“The reality is that we don’t know what the new normal is going to look like, even when we do recover from the coronavirus, and that is still a ways away,” said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager at Globalt Investments in Atlanta.

FILE PHOTO: Numbers showing the state of the Dow Jones Industrial Average are displayed above the floor after the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

“It’s the classic between the market discounting something that is nine to 12 months out, and then ‘undiscounting’ it because it has not happened yet.”

In extended trade, Cisco Systems Inc CSCO.O jumped 8.6% after the network gear maker reported its quarterly results.

New data showed U.S. jobless claims fell to a seven-month low last week, but the pace of job recovery slowed as fiscal stimulus waned and further improvement could be limited by a raging pandemic.

Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 1.08% to end at 29,080.17 points, while the S&P 500 .SPX lost 1.00% to 3,537.01.

The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 0.65% to 11,709.59.

Among the biggest boosts to the Nasdaq was a surge 20% in the U.S.-listed shares of Chinese e-commerce company Pinduoduo Inc PDD.O after it reported strong quarterly revenue.

Rival JD.com Inc's JD.O shares climbed 4.3%.

The S&P 500 energy index .SPNY slumped 4% and materials .SPLRCM lost 2.5%.

Moderna Inc MRNA.O rallied 6.5% after the drugmaker said it had enough data for a first interim analysis of the late-stage trial of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine. It did not say when it plans to release the data.

On U.S. exchanges, 10.3 billion shares changed hands, compared to an average of 10.0 billion shares for the last 20 sessions.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 2.95-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.17-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted five new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 70 new highs and 11 new lows.

Additional reporting by Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Shounak Dasgupta and Tom Brown

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