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Stock market news live updates: Wall Street rallies on Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine; Yellen to Treasury

Javier E. David
·Editor focused on markets and the economy
·12 min read

Stocks advanced on Monday, with encouraging developments in the fight against COVID-19 providing impetus that carried major benchmarks within view of new record highs.

Wall Street added to recent gains as investors weigh a wave of new COVID-19 infections — which are pushing up deaths and hospitalizations across the U.S. — against the rapidly unfolding timetable for the deployment of a vaccine. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is now within striking distance of the psychologically-charged 30,000 level, which would be a fresh record.

Investors also cheered news that President-elect Joe Biden was poised to nominate former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen — who is well regarded by Wall Street — as Treasury Secretary.

Markets have been broadly encouraged by the steady flow of positive news over a coronavirus cure. On Monday, University of Oxford and AstraZeneca (AZN) revealed that their candidate demonstrated efficacy of 70.4% in two large-scale trails, If a lower dose is used, then a second, full dose, the efficacy is up to 90%, the company said.

However, AstraZeneca’s stock tumbled after one Wall Street analyst sharply questioned the efficacy of the inoculation, and raised questions about whether it would receive U.S. regulatory approval. Meanwhile, the U.S. plans to begin rolling out an antibody cocktail created by Regeneron (REGN) as early as Tuesday.

Those developments came on the heels of Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX) announcing plans to file for an emergency use authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which would allow them to have their vaccine used in the U.S. starting in December.

“The stock market has reaffirmed its role as a discounting mechanism in looking past short-term concerns to the positive economic aspects of a COVID vaccine rollout,” noted Marc Chaikin, founder of Chaikin Analytics, a quantitative investment research firm.

“The impending roll-out of multiple, highly effective, COVID vaccines and the [Federal Reserve’s] commitment to backstopping the economy give me confidence that stocks will trade higher into year end and beyond,” he added.

Expectations for a relatively quick vaccine rollout have prospects for 2021 growth, while leading investors to unwind technology-heavy “stay at home” bets that previously bolstered key stocks like Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN), Zoom (ZM) and other names. Both the Dow (^DJI) and S&P 500 (^GSPC) notched record closing highs last week, as traders rode a wave of exuberance sparked by the vaccine news.

Also helping sentiment were manufacturing data that outpaced market expectations. U.S. business activity expanded at the fastest rate in more than five years this month. The survey was the latest indication the economy continues to extricate itself from the COVID-19 recession, even with new infections soaring.

However, the near term outlook remains clouded by the relentless scourge of more COVID-19 infections, and the inability of Washington’s warring parties to agree on stimulus. The current wave of the virus is swamping the darkest days of March and April, threatening to overshadow the holidays and drag on growth.

“This winter will be grim, and we believe the economy will contract again in 1Q, albeit at ‘only’ a 1.0% annualized rate,” JPMorgan Chase’s economics team wrote in a lengthy research note last week.

“The economy no longer has that tailwind; instead it now faces the headwind of increasing restrictions on activity. The holiday season—from Thanksgiving through New Year’s—threatens a further increase in cases,” the bank said.

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed to restart talks on a deal. The news momentarily sparked a boost for stocks, and fanned hopes that a lame-duck session could produce a bargain ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration in January.

However, the Senate has already adjourned for the Thanksgiving holiday, and will not meet again for another full session until the end of the month. That narrows the window of opportunity for new legislation to get passed.

4:03 p.m. ET: Stocks rally on encouraging vaccine news; Dow less than 500 points away from 30K

Here were the main moves in markets as of 4:03 p.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): +20.12 (+0.57%) to 3,577.66

  • Dow (^DJI): +328.38 (+1.12%) to 29,591.86

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): +25.66 (+0.22%) to 11,880.63

  • Crude (CL=F): +$0.52 (+1.23%) to $42.94 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): -$38.70 (-2.07%) to $1,833.70 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +2.8 bps to yield 0.8570%

3:00 p.m. ET: Report: Janet Yellen to serve as Treasury Secretary

The former Fed Chief is President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to serve as the top U.S. economic policy officer, according to news first reported by The Wall Street Journal. As a known quantity to investors, and a proponent of easy monetary policy, it’s expected that markets will embrace her candidacy — and she’ll likely work well with the current occupant in her old gig. The 74-year old New York native was the first woman to helm the Fed, and she’ll break the same glass ceiling as Treasury Secretary.

Markets are extending gains on the news, with the Dow hitting fresh session highs.

1:15 p.m. ET: A tale of two vaccine impacted markets

Gold bars are displayed during a photo opportunity at the Ginza Tanaka store in Tokyo September 7, 2009. Gold futures dipped a touch but still hovered just below $1,000 on Monday in buying linked to a weaker dollar and fears about inflation.   REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao (JAPAN BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT)
Gold bars are displayed during a photo opportunity at the Ginza Tanaka store in Tokyo September 7, 2009. Gold futures dipped a touch but still hovered just below $1,000 on Monday in buying linked to a weaker dollar and fears about inflation. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao (JAPAN BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT)

Bullish sentiment on a potential COVID-19 inoculation has had equal and opposite effects on two closely watched assets: oil and gold. The commodities trade is getting new life as economists aggressively price in widespread vaccinations into 2021 growth — bullish for crude demand, but not so much for bullion.

According to OANDA analyst Craig Erlam, Brent and West Texas Intermediate, which hit near 3-month highs, are threatening to challenge their recent ranges:

Further resistance is not far away but prices will take a run at them buoyed by the post-summer breakout which could massively test the defences. In WTI, next resistance lies around $44.50, with Brent seeing it around $47.50. A break above here would take prices right back to early in the pandemic.

The question then becomes just how motivated will OPEC+ be to delay January's planned production increase of two million barrels? Prices at the current levels are far more sustainable and there's now three vaccines that are likely to be rolled out before the end of the year. A postponement may not have the support it would a month ago.

Meanwhile, the safe-haven yellow metal is probing the downside (something you might not expect in an era of runaway government spending and record debt/deficits), testing support around $1,850, according to Erlam:

Gold isn't particularly fond of all this vaccine news and is once again finding itself trading lower and within a whisker of major support...The level hasn't broken yet but if it does, the selling could accelerate rapidly. The next support below here lies around $1,800 and we could see it tested very quickly.

I'm still not convinced we've seen the end of gold's ascent, with plenty more stimulus still on the horizon. The Fed and ECB are likely to unleash more in December in response to the latest Covid surge and, in the case of the former, delayed agreement on fiscal support. That should also come, all of which could give gold its spark back.

12:45 a.m. ET: Stocks lose steam; tech stocks dip into the red

Here were the main indexes as of midday:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): 3,566.07, +8.53 (+0.24%)

  • Dow (^DJI): 29,466.98, +203.50 (+0.70%)

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): 11,847.55, -7.42 (-0.06%)

  • Crude (CL=F): $43.00, +0.58 (+1.37%)

  • Gold (GC=F): $1,836.00, -$36.40 (-1.94%)

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +0.18 bps to yield 0.847%

11:15 a.m. ET: Retail organization sees strong finish to tumultuous year

In a development few people expected only months ago, holiday sales are expected to soar by between 3.6% and 5.2% from the comparable 2019 period, according to the National Retail Federation, to a total well over $755 billion. If they hold, those numbers would outstrip last year’s rate of increase, and the average of 3.5% over the last few years.

The secret sauce, of course, is skyrocketing online retail sales, which have been a bulwark for the sector in the COVID-19 era. In that area, the NRF forecasted a jump between 20 percent and 30 percent to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year.

“Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend, but with the economy improving most have the ability to spend,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. “Consumers have experienced a difficult year but will likely spend more than anyone would have expected just a few months ago.”

9:45 a.m. ET: Manufacturing sector expands at historic pace: ISM

U.S. business activity expanded at the fastest rate in more than five years in November, led by the quickest pickup in manufacturing since September 2014, Reuters reports. The survey was the latest indication the economy continues to extricate itself from the COVID-19 recession, even with new infections soaring.

JPMorgan Chase’s Daniel Silver noted that “there were mixed changes reported between October and November across the different details of the PMI surveys, but many components firmed and the flash November figures generally looked solid. The expectation measures for the surveys have looked particularly upbeat lately, likely reflecting favorable vaccine-related news.”

9:35 a.m. ET: Analyst: AstraZeneca ‘will never be licensed in the U.S.’

Stocks are rallying at the opening bell, but SVB Leerink has poured cold water on the Oxford/AstraZeneca news that got markets on a bull run. In a sharply worded analysis, the bank accused AZN of trying to “embellish” its results, and offered several reasons why “this product will never be licensed in the US:”

This belief is based on the design of the company’s pivotal trials (which does not appear to match the FDA’s requirements for representation of minorities, severe cases, previously infected individuals and elderly and other increase risk populations), and based on the occurrence of severe safety events (why take the risk) that resulted in the extended clinical hold on enrollment into the trials in the US.

Lastly, this result rather confounds our thesis that “all spike protein vaccines are created equal.” This manifestly is not the case now, and the result puts into question the outlook for JNJ’s adenovirus based COVID vaccine as well. We remain optimistic about the outlook for adjuvanted protein sub unit vaccines such as those in development at Novavax and GSK/SNY, and these engineered synthetic virus vaccines may have a role long term in boosting, but it appears that the occurrence of pre existing or post vaccination immunity to the vector has a significant dampening effect on the efficacy of the vaccines (and may confer risk as well) and for this reason we believe these products are likely to be regarded as relatively marginal suppliers in the COVID vaccine market of the future.

AstraZeneca’s stock is defying the trend that boosted other vaccine makers, shedding over 3% in early dealings, underscoring how the market is differentiating between treatments that are less effective than others set to be distributed. While Pfizer (PFE) is down marginally, Moderna (MRNA) — which has the comparatively more effective vaccine candidate with 95% — is spiking by over 3%.

9:30 a.m. ET: Stocks pop at the opening bell, riding wave of vaccine hopes

Here were the main moves in markets, as of 9:30 a.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): 3,581.33, +23.79 (+0.67%)

  • Dow (^DJI): 29,493.43, +229.95 (+0.79%)

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): 11,927.83, +72.86 (+0.61%)

  • Crude (CL=F): $42.83 per barrel, +$0.41 (+0.97%)

  • Gold (GC=F): $14,863.60 per ounce, -$8.80 (-0.47%)

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +0.18 bps to yield 0.847%

7:15 a.m. ET: ‘We should all be smiling this morning’

In a research note Monday, Deutsche Bank called the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine news “a big deal” that puts the world on track for wide-scale inoculation to COVID-19 by the middle of 2021:

We should all be smiling this morning. With Astrazeneca releasing trial results a few hours ago, our updated analysis suggests we are now on track for the majority of the developed world to immunize its vulnerable population to COVID by the spring and the entire population by mid-year. Depending on the pace of vaccine distribution there may even be upside to this estimate with some countries achieving herd immunity before summer. The combined vaccine news of the last few weeks is an unprecedented victory for science that will lead to a much faster pace of normalization to our daily lives compared to what we would have assumed just a few weeks ago. By spring, things should be looking much closer to normal.

7:00 a.m E.T.: Stock futures gain as vaccine news boosts sentiment

Here were the main moves in equity markets as of early Monday:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 3,572.00, +17.75 (+0.50%)

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 29,378.00, +166.00 (+0.57%)

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 11,946.75, +41.00 (+0.34%)

6:20 p.m. ET Sunday: Stock futures open near the unchanged mark

Here were the main moves in equity markets, as of 6:20 p.m. ET Sunday:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 3356.00, +1.75

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 29202, -10

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 11926.75, +22

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