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Stocks on track for best quarter in decades



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USA TODAY

Stocks were steady Tuesday on the final trading day of the month as Wall Street heads toward its best quarter in more than two decades. 

The Dow Jones industrial average was virtually unchanged after soaring 580 points a day earlier. The Standard & Poor’s 500 ticked up 0.4%. Both indexes are on pace for their strongest quarter since 1998 after surging more than 16% in the past three months. 

The Nasdaq Composite climbed 0.8%. The technology-heavy index has rallied 28% so far this quarter, on track for its best such period since 2001.

Global markets moved higher as investors weighed evidence of an economic recovery against a rise in reported coronavirus contagions in some countries and states. Traders are worried about Texas and other states having to roll back their reopening plans as infections surge.

The S&P 500 index has bounced back more than 35% since the March lows following a series of fiscal and monetary stimulus measures from Washington and the Federal Reserve to support the economy. A recent bout of volatility, however, could threaten the stock market’s rebound as a resurgence in virus cases stoke fears of another round of lockdowns.

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Investors look ahead to testimony from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin before the House Financial Services Committee about the pandemic response.

Powell is expected to repeat a pledge that the central bank will keep interest rates at their current ultra-low levels until it is sure the economy has weathered the pandemic crisis.

The outlook for the U.S. economy is “extraordinarily uncertain” and the success of the recovery effort will depend in large part on the country’s ability to contain the spread of the pandemic, according to testimony from Powell released Monday by the Fed.

“A full recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it is safe to re-engage in a broad range of activities,” Powell says.

Markets overseas were buoyed somewhat by stronger than expected manufacturing data from China, the world’s second largest economy. But other new economic indicators were mixed.

Countries across the world are in various stages of the pandemic. Some will not resume normal economic activity for some time because of continuing restrictions and changing consumer behavior, analysts say.

The worry is that worsening outbreaks in the U.S. and elsewhere could choke off budding improvements in economies as governments ease up on pandemic restrictions.

The number of confirmed cases globally is over 10.3 million, and the death toll is more than 505,500. There are more than 2.5 million cases in the U.S. and an excess of 129,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, and other top health officials will testify before Congress today on the state of the pandemic.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 55 cents to $39.15 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose $1.21 to $39.70 a barrel on Monday. Brent crude oil for August delivery slipped 52 cents to $41.33 a barrel.

In Europe, France’s CAC 40 rose 0.3%, while Germany’s DAX gained 0.7% after new data showed an uptick in eurozone inflation. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 0.4%.

Elsewhere, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 gained 1.3%. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.7% and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.4%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng ticked up 0.5%. The Shanghai Composite closed up 0.8%.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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