Stocks are mixed in subdued afternoon trading on Wall Street Tuesday, as investors wait to see how well the lifting of lockdowns around the world goes.
The S&P 500 and other U.S. indexes were flipping between small gains and losses, following mixed performances in Europe and Asia. Treasury yields were down slightly, but a measure of nervousness in the U.S. stock market also eased to its lowest level in two months.
Governments around the world and in many U.S. states have begun gradually lifting restrictions on businesses, which were meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak but also caused a severe recession. Expectations that growth will resume following the reopenings has helped drive the S&P 500 up about 30% since late March.
But South Korea and other countries further ahead in removing restrictions have also seen a small but notable increase in infections. That’s raising worries about possible second waves of infections and keeping enthusiasm in check.
“What we’re dealing with, both today and the last couple of weeks, is the optimism behind the reopening and asking: Are we going to be reopening too soon?” said Bill Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.
”We’re in an unknowable scenario at this point in time,” he said.
Underscoring that balance was testimony from the top U.S. infectious diseases expert. Dr. Anthony Facui, who told Congress that if the country reopens too soon, “the consequences could be really serious.”
The S&P 500 was down 0.1%, as of 12:52 p.m. Eastern time, after swinging between an earlier gain of 0.5% and loss of 0.4%. Most stocks in the index were down.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was virtually flat at 24,222, while the Nasdaq was up 0.4%.
If the Nasdaq maintains its gain, it would the seventh straight day that the index has climbed. That would be its longest such streak since late last year, before the pandemic struck. Tech stocks have proven to be the year’s big winners as investors search for companies that can make money in both a typical economy and one where everyone is shuttered indoors.
In Europe, Germany’s DAX was down 0.1%, while France’s CAC 40 was down 0.4%. The FTSE 100 in London was up 0.9%. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 slipped 0.1%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 1.4% and South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.7%.
Markets are focusing much more on when the economy can resume growing and less on reports coming in daily that show how badly the economy has been hurt by the pandemic. Inflation in the United States was just 0.3% last month from a year earlier, weaker than economists expected, as purchases withered amid widespread stay-at-home orders. But the report released Tuesday morning caused only minor ripples in markets.
Treasurys were some of the first investments to signal the economic devastation coming from the pandemic. The yield on the 10-year Treasury edged down to 0.69% from 0.72% late Monday. It tends to fall when investors are downgrading their expectations for the economy and inflation.
The yield is still well below the roughly 1.90% level where it started the year, but it has been climbing since setting a record low in early March of a little less than 0.50%.
Stocks whose profits are most closely tied to the strength of the economy had some of the sharpest losses.
Financial stocks in the S&P 500 fell 1%. They’ve struggled this year on worries that the recession will force waves of households and businesses to default on their loans. JPMorgan Chase fell 1.5%, and Bank of America lost 1.2%.
Many companies are opting to give no financial forecasts as they release their latest quarter earnings report, due to overwhelming uncertainty over what lies ahead. That was true of Toyota Motor, whose shares fell 2% Tuesday as it reported its net profit dropped nearly 90% in the January-March quarter from a year earlier, though it said it expected a recovery as the pandemic is brought under control.
In the United States, Simon Property Group likewise said it’s currently impossible to predict future results amid the pandemic, and it withdrew its financial forecast for 2020. But its stock rose 0.8% after it said it plans to have about half of its U.S. shopping malls reopened within the next week.
Uber rose 7.8% after analysts said news reports of a possible takeover attempt of food delivery company Grubhub makes strategic sense. Grubhub jumped 36.5%.
A barrel of U.S. oil to be delivered in June rose 8% to $26.08 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, added 2.4% to $30.34.
The VIX index, which measures the likelihood traders see of volatile swings for the S&P 500, was close to flat after earlier touching its lowest level since early March.
AP Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed.