Saturday, April 20, 2024

Stocks open higher on Wall Street, holding near records

by Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are opening higher on Wall Street as Congress inches closer to a deal for more badly needed support for the economy, even as more grim data pours in showing how badly the pandemic has taken a toll on jobs. The S&P 500 rose 0.6% in the early going Thursday and is slightly above the record closing high it reached last week. Other indexes were also holding near record highs. Before trading opened the Labor Department reported that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to 885,000 last week, the most since September. Overseas markets were mostly higher and Treasury yields held steady.

World shares were mostly higher on Thursday, buoyed by hopes the U.S. Congress may finally deliver fresh aid to help American businesses and families weather the pandemic.

Benchmarks rose in Paris, London, Tokyo and Shanghai fell in South Korea.

Investors were encouraged by the Federal Reserve’s pledge to keep buying bonds until the economy is greatly improved from its current, virus-wracked state.

Congressional leaders also appear to be on the brink of a COVID-19 economic aid package that would extend help to individuals and businesses and ship coronavirus vaccines to millions.

Negotiators were working on a $900 billion package that would revive subsidies for businesses hit hard by the pandemic, help distribute new vaccines, fund schools and renew soon-to-expire jobless benefits. They’re also looking to include new direct payments of about $600 to most Americans.

Help for the U.S. economy is seen as crucial for the global economy and the many world exporters that rely on American demand to keep their own factories running.

Germany’s DAX advanced 1.1% to 13,709.17 and the FTSE 100 in Britain edged 0.2% higher, to 6,583.81. In Paris, the CAC 40 rose 0.5% to 5,577.28. U.S. markets looked set for gains, with the future for the S&P 500 up 0.6% while the future for the Dow industrials added 0.5%.

Optimism over a possible U.S. stimulus deal after many false starts has been tempered with concern over a resurgence of coronavirus cases in many countries at a time when the rollout of vaccinations has barely begun.

In Japan, Tokyo reported 822 new cases of the coronavirus, a new high for the Japanese capital and a sharp increase from its previous record the day before, as the country struggles with a latest wave of resurgence nationwide.

Infections have been on the steady climb nationwide for several weeks and experts raised caution levels for the city’s medical systems to highest on their scale of four.

Still, the Nikkei 225 index gained 0.2% to 26,806.67, while in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index rose 0.8% to 26,678.38. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 jumped 1.2% to 6,756.70 and the Shanghai Composite index added 1.1% to 3,404.87. India’s Sensex was up 0.6%.

South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.1% to 2,770.43. Shares also fell in Singapore and Taiwan but rose in other regional markets.

The S&P 500 rose 0.2% to 3,701.17 on Wednesday, about 1 point off its record set last week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.1% to 30,154.54 and the Nasdaq composite rose 0.5% to 12,658.19, setting a record for the second straight day.

Massive efforts by the Fed have helped underpin the market since the spring, and the central bank said Wednesday that it will buy at least $80 billion in Treasurys each month and $40 billion in agency mortgage-backed securities until “substantial further progress” has been made. It also said again that it would keep short-term interest rates at their record low of nearly zero.

But the Fed’s tools alone can help the economy only so much. Lower interest rates can help goose home prices and stocks on Wall Street, for example, but they can’t replace paychecks lost by workers whose businesses have shut because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the rising death toll of the pandemic is scaring customers away from businesses and normal economic activity while some governments are restoring restrictions to combat virus outbreaks.

A stimulus deal could help carry the economy through what’s expected to be a bleak winter before one or more coronavirus vaccines helps the economy return to normal.

In other dealings:

The yield on the 10-year Treasury was steady at 0.92% on Thursday. It was at 0.94% shortly after the Fed’s announcement.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, topped $20,000 for the first time. It was trading up nearly 11% at 23,225.00 on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

U.S. benchmark crude oil gained 56 cents to $48.38 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It picked up 20 cents to $47.82 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, the international standard, climbed 56 cents to $51.64 per barrel.

The dollar weakened to 103.17 Japanese yen from 103.47 yen. The euro rose to $1.2235 from $1.2199.

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