/Dow Escapes Bear Market With a 6% Rally

Dow Escapes Bear Market With a 6% Rally

U.S. stocks soared Thursday as the government came closer to approving a $2 trillion stimulus package to combat the coronavirus pandemic, capping a three-day rally that has pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average into a bull market.

The Dow industrials finished the day up 1,351.62 points, or 6.4%, to 22552.17, launching the blue-chip index back into bull-market territory. The jump ends an 11-trading day bear market for the index—the shortest in history for the Dow—which reached its bear-market low three days ago.

The rapid plunge out of and then rise back into a bull market demonstrates how volatile U.S. stocks have become as the coronavirus pandemic ripples through the economy.

The Dow industrials are still down 21% for the year, despite climbing 21% in the past three days—the largest three-day percentage gain for the index since 1931.

A bull market is typically defined as a 20% gain from a recent low. The stock market isn’t a proxy for the economy, which remains battered by the pandemic.

The S&P 500 also ended the day higher, climbing 154.51 points, or 6.2% to 2630.07, helping the index to similarly reach its largest three-day percentage jump in nearly 87 years. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite jumped 413.24 points, or 5.6% to 7797.54. Both indexes are still far from returning to a bull market.

Investors had been jittery leading up to the release of the latest weekly jobless claims data. Futures tied to U.S. stocks had declined steeply earlier in the morning but pared their losses after it was announced that a record 3.28 million workers filed for unemployment benefits—five times the previous high.

But stocks opened higher and remained in the green for the entire session as some investors were already looking ahead to the likely passage of the largest fiscal stimulus package in the U.S. in recent memory.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has ended its shortest bear run and is now back in a bull market. WSJ’s Akane Otani explains how we got here. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate on Wednesday approved the relief plan, which would provide direct payments to Americans and loans to large and small companies, among other measures. The House is expected to consider the bill Friday. If approved, it would head to President Trump.

“Investors believe data like today will make it more likely that the House will pass the stimulus bill,” said Jeffrey Kleintop, chief global investment strategist at Charles Schwab & Co. “The deeper and the worse the numbers are in the near term, the more possibility there is for a [fiscal] response, which powers the rebound on the other side.”

Gains were broad Thursday with all 11 sectors of the S&P 500 finishing the day higher. Dow heavyweight

Boeing Co.

surged 14% on news that the stimulus package had set aside $17 billion for businesses deemed critical for national security, which many have interpreted to include Boeing, which is a defense contractor.

Darker shades indicate overlapping dots.
Source: FactSet

Many airlines also climbed after it became clear that they would receive relief.

Alaska Air Group

was among the large gainers in the S&P 500, rising 8.9%.

The S&P 500’s energy sector also continued to march higher.

Marathon Oil

surged 8.4%,

Exxon Mobil

edged up 4.1%, and

Chevron

gained more than 10%. Stocks in the sector had been particularly battered by weeks of market downturn, pushed lower, in part, by evidence that the pandemic is leading to an unprecedented decline in energy demand.

Still, oil prices slid Thursday. Brent crude, the global gauge of oil prices, dropped 3.8% to $26.34 a barrel.

Despite widespread gains across equities Thursday, investors warned that the Dow’s rise into a bull market should be cautiously digested.

“It’s impressive in terms of percent from the bottom,” said Anwiti Bahuguna, head of multiasset strategies at Columbia Threadneedle Investments. “But we still have a big hill to climb back to the old high.”

And, even as investors look ahead to the stimulus bill, there is no guarantee that it will be enough to blunt the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. cases of the virus now surpass 80,000 people, and more than 1,100 have died. State and local governments have ordered millions of Americans to stay home to stop the spread of the highly contagious virus, further exacerbating the U.S. economic dent.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday morning that he expected economic activity to decline “pretty substantially” in the second quarter. Mr. Powell, speaking in a rare television interview on NBC’s “Today” show, added that the central bank is taking unprecedented action to help ensure economic activity can resume as soon as the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

Many economists have been revising their U.S. GDP projections, with some predicting that the U.S. economy could in the second quarter shrink far worse than it did during the Great Recession. Other market observers have cautioned that the U.S. stocks rally could likely be temporary—especially as more economic data emerges and the U.S. likely remains weeks away from having the coronavirus under control.

Analysts also expect a sharp decline in corporate earnings in the month ahead.

The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting the global economy. WSJ’s Greg Ip explains what the Federal Reserve can do to stem the damage.

“The market is showing a little bit of relief, but frankly, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to persist,” said Solita Marcelli, deputy chief investment officer for the Americas at UBS Global Wealth Management. “We still have a lot of things that are unknown.”

Investors moved into government bonds, causing the benchmark on the 10-year U.S. Treasury to retreat to 0.806% from 0.854% Wednesday.

Outside of the U.S., the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 finished the day up 2.6%. Earlier, the European Central Bank “broke new ground,” said Florian Hense, an economist at Berenberg Bank in a note, after it gave itself more flexibility on its new €750 billion ($821 billion) bond-purchase program.

Meanwhile, most major stock markets in the Asia-Pacific region closed lower. Japan’s Nikkei 225 lost 4.5%. Singapore’s FTSE Straits Times Index shed less than 1% after the country forecast that the economy could contract by up to 4% in 2020 in its first full-year recession since 2001.

A woman takes a picture in front of a closed Department of Labor office in New York this week. Stocks rose Thursday despite U.S. jobless claims spiking.



Photo:

angela weiss/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Write to Caitlin McCabe at caitlin.mccabe@wsj.com, Anna Hirtenstein at anna.hirtenstein@wsj.com and Chong Koh Ping at chong.kohping@wsj.com

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