Market Snapshot: Dow up for second day as pace of job losses slows, Congress votes on more aid and crude oil recovers

U.S. stocks finished little changed on Thursday, as a strong rally for all three benchmarks hit a snag in afternoon trade, amid reports that suggested that a closely followed experimental drug intended to be used to treat coronavirus delivered disappointing results in an “inconclusive” trial.

Meanwhile, Congress was expected to vote on further aid for small businesses after Thursday’s close and crude oil prices staged a recovery from historically low levels.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

eked out a gain, rising 39.44 points, or 0.2%, at around 23,515.26, buttressed by gains UnitedHealth Group Inc.
which rose 3% on the day. The blue-chip benchmark had hit a high at 23,885.36.

Meanwhile, the S&P 500

edged up 1.51 points or less than 0.1%, at 2,797.80, with an intraday peak at 2,844.90. The Nasdaq Composite

gave up less than a point to end the session virtually unchanged at 8,494.75.

For the week so far, the Dow is off 3%, the S&P 500 is down 2.7% and the Nasdaq is down 1.8%.

What’s driving the market?

Equity markets buckled midday Thursday on conflicting reports that suggested that remdesivir, the hoped-for treatment for the illness derived from the novel strain of coronavirus, may not be successful in early trials, according to the Financial Times (paywall).

However, the maker of the therapeutic Gilead Sciences

says that results from a trial that was mistakenly published on the World Health Organization’s website, and subsequently removed, isn’t conclusive and referred to articles about findings as “inappropriate characterizations.” Still shares of Gilead closed 4.3% lower.

The market reaction highlights the desire for a salve for the COVID-19 disease that has infected more than 2.6 million people world-wide and brought economies in much of the developed world to a screeching halt in a matter of months.

Indeed, domestically, another 4.4 million Americans filed for first-time jobless claims in the most recent week, slightly worse than the 4 million consensus forecast among MarketWatch-surveyed economists.

See: Jobless claims jump another 4.4 million — 25 million Americans have lost their jobs to the coronavirus

But a rise in stocks Thursday morning suggested that Wall Street may be getting inured to awful weekly data from the U.S. labor market after a month of reports indicating that millions are out of work due to COVID-19 shutdown procedures.

“Markets love information, and we’re getting more information. As ugly as it is, we have a better view into this than we did 30 days ago,” said Donald Calcagni, chief investment officer with Mercer Advisors. “Information transforms uncertainty into risk.”

There are still big unknowns — and hurdles — ahead, Calcagni said in an interview. “This White House has been a train wreck and it’s going to spook businesses and consumers if we re-open the economy too soon.”

Read:Expanded unemployment benefits: Who qualifies, how to apply

A reading of U.S. service sector activity from Markit fell to its lowest on record in April, while its manufacturing purchasing manager’s index was at an 11-year low. Sales of newly constructed homes were at a 627,000 annual rate in March, almost precisely matching the MarketWatch consensus, and a hefty step down from February’s pace.

See also: Eurozone economy shrinking by quarterly rate of 7.5%, survey suggests

Meanwhile, investors have been digesting unsurprisingly bad corporate quarterly earnings results. On a year-over-year basis, the earnings-per-share growth estimate is negative-13.6%, and that rate would be negative-11.8%, if the oil sector were excluded, according to data from Refinitiv as of midday Wednesday.

Of the 84 S&P 500 companies that have reported so far, 66.7% have posted results above consensus estimates, while 28.6% have missed the mark. By comparison, over the past four quarters, 74% of companies beat estimates and 19% missed, according to the analytics company.

Some recovery in crude oil prices also supported the benchmark U.S. stock indexes Thursday, lifting the S&P 500 energy sector
which rose 3.3%, as Dow components Exxon Mobil

and Chevron

rallied about 3.1% and 2.8%, respectively.

“Financial markets are making a lot of noise, pedalling hard, but going nowhere in a hurry,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, in a note out Thursday morning. “That makes sense when one steps back a bit, as the world has a vast amount of moving parts moving in as yet, quite uncertain directions.”

Which other stocks are in focus?

After the close

  • Intel Corp

    shares ended off 1.8% in the regular session but in after-hours trade, the chip maker shares declined by 4% after results beat estimates but offered a downbeat outlook.

  • Capital One Financial

    , finished up 2.1%, and Edwards Lifesciences Corp.
    with shares closing 2.1% higher on Thursday, are also due after the closing bell Thursday, according to FactSet data.

How are other markets trading?

The benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury note

was virtually unchanged late-Thursday in New York at 0.613% as investors remained interested in safe-haven assets despite gains in stocks.

In commodities, June crude futures for West Texas Intermediate oil

rocketed 20% to settle at $16.50 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while June gold futures

finished up about 0.4% to settle at $1,745.40 an ounce.

The U.S. dollar

edged down fractionally against a basket of currency trading partners, as measured by the U.S. Dollar Index.

Overnight in Asia, Japan’s TOPIX Index

gained about 1.4% to close at 1,425.98. The Hong Kong Hang Seng

closed about 0.4% higher, at 23,977.32. The Stoxx Europe 600

closed 0.9% higher, at 333.24, and the FTSE 100

added 55.98 points, closing at 5,826.61.

How is MarketWatch’s oil-currency index performing?

The MarketWatch Petrocurrency Index

fell about 0.5% to 237.44.

Read next: Fool me twice? For businesses and consumers, coronavirus is the financial crisis all over again

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