S&P 500 hits record on strong jobs report, Pfizer COVID-19 pill cheer

By Lewis Krauskopf, Devik Jain and Bansari Mayur Kamdar

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 and Dow rose modestly to record highs on Friday following a strong U.S. jobs report and positive data for Pfizer’s experimental pill to fight COVID-19.

But stocks were off their session highs in afternoon trade, with the Nasdaq turning negative, as shares of healthcare and some tech and stay-at-home stocks weighed.

The Labor Department report showed U.S. employment increased more than expected in October as the headwind from the surge in COVID-19 infections over the summer subsided.

A trial of Pfizer Inc’s experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 was stopped early after the drug was shown to cut by 89% the chances of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of developing severe disease. Pfizer shares jumped 7%.

The news kept the positive momentum going for equities after investors earlier in the week digested the Federal Reserve’s decision to start reducing its monthly bond purchases put in place to support the economy.

“The biggest fear that was out there with central bank policy concerns seems to have diminished over the last few days, so a nice backdrop for equity prices,” said David Joy, chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 89.68 points, or 0.25%, to 36,213.91, the S&P 500 gained 5.71 points, or 0.12%, to 4,685.77 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 14.50 points, or 0.09%, to 15,925.81.

Travel stocks rose following Pfizer’s announcement, with the S&P 1500 airlines index climbing 6% and cruise operators Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise rising between 7% to 8%.

“Still early to be definitive but this (pill) looks like a true game changer for many industries like leisure and transportation, you’re seeing it reflected in the prices,” said Andre Bakhos, managing director at New Vines Capital LLC in Bernardsville, New Jersey.

Among S&P 500 sectors, energy led the way, rising 1.5%, while consumer discretionary gained 1%.

Healthcare lagged the most, falling 1.6%. The Pfizer news weighed on shares of competitors such as Merck, which fell over 9%, and COVID-19 vaccine makers such as Moderna, which tumbled 22%.

Shares of so-called “stay-at-home” names fell, with Zoom Video Communications down 7% and Netflix Inc off about 3%.

Better-than-expected third-quarter earnings have helped lift sentiment for equities. With about 440 companies having reported, S&P 500 earnings are expected to have climbed 41.5% in the third quarter from a year earlier, according to Refinitiv IBES.

Pinterest Inc shares climbed 5% after the company’s strong fourth-quarter revenue forecast.

Peloton Interactive Inc shares slumped 34% after the company slashed its full-year sales forecast by up to $1 billion.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.82-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.02-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 83 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 288 new highs and 73 new lows.

(Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf in New York, Devik Jain and Bansari Mayur Kamdar in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Marguerita Choy)

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