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Wall Street posts modest gains after volatile day and brutal unemployment data

Weekly initial jobless claims showed 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week.

Wall Street posted modest gains on Thursday, after a volatile day that included brutal unemployment data that showed 6.6 million Americans filed for first-time jobless benefits last week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up by around 450 points, with the S&P up by 2.2 percent and the Nasdaq ticking up by about 1.7 percent.

Markets were optimistic that apparent talks between Saudi Arabia and Russia would end a destructive price war amid cratering demand due to coronavirus. That’s welcome news to U.S. oil executives, who will meet with the White House on Friday to discuss how their industry can survive the pandemic.

President Donald Trump said he spoke recently with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Both countries will cut production by about 10 million barrels a day, Trump told CNBC.

Markets were nonetheless jolted by new figures from the Department of Labor that showed almost 10 million people have filed for initial jobless claims in the last two weeks.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt the fabric of American life, closing schools, factories and businesses across the country, putting more and more Americans out of work and leaving economists to ponder just how long the virus' stranglehold on the global economy will last.

“More than any other economic data point, the unprecedented and massive level of more than 6.6 million new jobless claims captures the recent, heartbreaking financial devastation related to the coronavirus outbreak and measures aimed at containing it," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com.

Focus now turns to Friday's monthly employment snapshot from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, though that data will not capture the nation's extreme job loss in the second half of March.

“With nearly 10 million total new claims reported over the past couple of weeks, the backward-looking March jobs report will be anti-climactic, given that the survey week occurred early last month. It will take some time for the monthly data to catch up to what’s really happening,” Hamrick said.

“We’ve lived through the recession and 9/11. What we’re seeing with this decline is actually worse than both of those events,” said Irina Novoselsky, CEO of online jobs marketplace CareerBuilder.