Stocks rose Wednesday after Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the U.S. presidential race, adding to early gains as hopes grew the number of new coronavirus cases were beginning to fall.
The Dow Jones industrial Average climbed 779.71 points to close at 23,433.57, a day after it suffered its worst intraday reversal since 2008. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 3.4% to end at 2,749.98, driven by gains in beaten down energy, real estate and utility shares. The broad index has jumped nearly 23% since it hit a low two and a half weeks ago.
A strong showing by former Vice President Joe Biden in the Democratic primaries buoyed investors who view him as a more business-friendly alternative to Sanders, a strong critic of Wall Street.
Many investors feared a Sanders nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate because of his policy proposals on health care and the economy, which analysts warned could crimp profits at insurers and other companies. Shares of health insurers Anthem, Humana and Cigna rose 10%, 5.4% and 5.1%, respectively.
"News that Senator Sanders has dropped out of the presidential race is not that surprising given the large lead that Senator Biden enjoyed over him," Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer at Independent Advisor Alliance, said in a note. "Normally the news that Biden is now the presumptive nominee would likely have been viewed as net-positive for the market, however, this was already the assumed outcome and was likely 99% priced into the market already."
Coronavirus: How far will your $1,200 stimulus check go?
Homeowners: Those hurt by COVID-19 can delay mortgage payments, but some say they're anxious and confused about the real cost
Stocks also received a boost Wednesday on hopes the number of new coronavirus cases is beginning to fall. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Fox News Wednesday the U.S. death toll from the virus was lower than initially thought. U.S. health officials are planning ways for Americans to return to normal activities if social distancing measures are successful in curbing the outbreak, he said.
"If in fact we are successful, it makes sense to at least plan what a re-entry into normality would look like," Fauci said. "That doesn't mean we're going to do it right now, but it means we need to be prepared to ease into that."
The U.S. reached 402,000 confirmed cases and surpassed 13,000 deaths Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. Worldwide, there are 1.4 million confirmed cases and more than 85,000 deaths.
Small businesses: Emergency loan program is off to shaky start amid blitz of applications
To be sure, Tuesday's brief rally on Wall Street proved to be short-lived in a market dominated by sharp swings responding to the ups and downs of the news about the pandemic. Even though economists say a punishing recession is inevitable, some investors are hoping a peak in new infections might provide clues about how long and durable the downturn might be.
First quarter earnings season is slated to kick off next week with the release of results from several banks. Analysts expect profit growth at S&P 500 companies to decline 5.2% from a year ago, according to FactSet. Investor focus will be on tone and mindset around how companies may operate during the remainder of 2020.
"The stock market is at a very uncertain point now," Nancy Davis, chief investment officer of Quadratic Capital, said in a note. "The impact of the coronavirus on future earnings is yet to be determined. We aren't out of the woods."
Another bounce came in the afternoon after the Federal Reserve released minutes from its meeting last month, where it slashed short-term interest rates back to nearly zero.
The minutes confirmed expectations that the Fed will do "whatever it takes" to support markets, according to Bob Miller, head of Americans fundamental fixed income at BlackRock.
Treasury yields, which signaled worries about the economic damage coming from the coronavirus outbreak earlier than the stock market, were relatively steady. The yield on the 10-year Treasury ticked up to 0.75% from 0.73% late Tuesday.
While many investors are preoccupied with the pandemic, energy remains another major factor driving trading.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose $1.54, or 6.5%, to $25.17 a barrel Wednesday, recovering some of its 9.4% slide from the prior day. It started the year above $60 per barrel.
Oil prices have been even more volatile than stocks recently as Russia and Saudi Arabia argue about whether to cut production in the face of withering demand. Oil producers are set to meet on Thursday, and an announcement for production cuts to prop up the price of crude is possible.
"Falling oil prices are hurting profits," Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S.Bank Wealth Management, said in a note. "Low energy prices add stress to highly-leveraged energy companies and banks with significant exposure to the oil industry."
In Europe, France's CAC 40 index was little changed after the national central bank said the economy was in recession and was estimated to have contracted by 6% in the first quarter. Germany's DAX slipped 0.2% and Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.5%.
Japan's Nikkei 225 gained 2.1% on stronger than expected machinery orders. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.2% and the Shanghai Composite dipped 0.2%.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dow: Stocks rise as Bernie Sanders drops out of US presidential race