July 20, 2020 / 8:02 PM / 14 days ago

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

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By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK, July 20 (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 and Microsoft Corp provided the biggest boosts to the Nasdaq and the S&P500, but industrials retreated, capping the Dow’s 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, CanSino Biologics Inc and from a partnership between Pfizer Inc and German biotech firm BioNTech 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.

Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 8.98 points, or 0.03%, to 26,680.93, the S&P 500 gained 27.11 points, or 0.84%, to 3,251.84 and the Nasdaq Composite added 263.90 points, or 2.51%, to 10,767.09.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, consumer discretionary and tech 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.

This week, Microsoft Corp, Amazon.com Inc, Tesla Inc and Intel Corp are among the high-profile companies expected to report quarterly results.

Shares Halliburton Co rose after posting a surprise adjusted quarterly profit and better-than-expected cash flow due to cost-cutting.

Noble Energy Inc jumped on news that Chevron Corp agreed to buy the oil and gas producer for $5 billion.

Chevron ended the session lower.

Moderna Inc plunged on positive results from its competitors’ rival COVID-19 drug trials. (Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by David Gregorio)

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