Markets close with modest gains amid rising economic toll

The New York Stock Exchange was calm as it prepared to close its main trading floor and convert to all-electronic trading due to safety concerns about coronavirus.

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By Lucy Bayly

Stocks rebounded on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gathering momentum after closing below 20,000 for the first time since 2017.

The Dow closed with a gain of 189 points Thursday, while the S&P 500 rose by 0.5 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq traded higher by just under 2.5 percent, boosted by stock gains at Facebook and Amazon.

Markets were optimistic after President Donald Trump said the U.S. was hoping to roll out a series of vaccines for the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the oil market bounced back spectacularly, with prices gaining 25 percent in one day, on news of intervention by the Trump administration to prop up domestic oil producers, after the Department of Energy said it would purchase 30 million barrels for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

However, newly released weekly data that showed a significant spike in unemployment levels also put some pressure on stocks on Thursday, with 281,000 people filing claims, far higher than last week's 211,000.

While Wednesday's markets saw steep losses, overnight efforts by the Federal Reserve and other central banks stemmed some of the sell-off pressure. The Fed announced it would extend its currency exchange program to other central banks around the world as the demand for dollars intensifies. The Dow had dipped as much as 2,300 points on Wednesday, before regaining some of its losses by the end of the day.

Investor sentiment remains negative both about the way the crisis is being handled, and about what the future holds. Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman told CNBC on Wednesday that the virus would "wreak destruction on financial markets," noting that “America will end as we know it" unless the country shuts down for 30 days to control the spread of the virus.

“Capitalism does not work in an 18-month shutdown, capitalism can work in a 30-day shutdown,” he said.

Investor Ray Dalio said Thursday that the total cost to U.S. companies could be $4 trillion, telling CNBC, “What’s happening has not happened in our lifetime before ... What we have is a crisis. There will also be individuals who have very big losses. There’s a need for the government to spend more money, a lot more money.”

Despite today’s small gains, stocks remain in “bear territory,” with losses of more than 30 percent off their recent highs.