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Stocks swing upward on coronavirus stimulus package hopes

March 17, 2020, 10:07 PM UTC

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Another day brings another lurch, with the S&P 500 closing up 123.86 (5.2%), the Nasdaq gaining 424.70 (6.2%), and the Dow Jones Industrials closing up 831.37 (4.1%).

That came after an early morning swoon in the Dow, likely accelerated by Boeing shares which were down almost 21% mid-morning, then rebounded to close down 4.2%.

Overall, what seemed to push markets today was a pair of announcements from the White House and Federal Reserve.

Infographic by Nicolas Rapp

“A lot of times, the markets are going to do what they’re going to do,” said Scott Brown, chief economist of Raymond James. “Investors are going back and forth. Any little bit of good news or bad news is going to be exaggerated.”

“I think over the past weekend, markets were looking for a stimulus package,” said KC Mathews, executive vice president and chief investment officer at UMB Bank.

On Sunday, the Fed announced a surprise cut to 0% interest rates and an increase in purchasing Treasury and mortgage-backed bonds to help ease a growing liquidity problem in financial markets. But, “there was no word on fiscal policy,” Mathews said. “So, the market interpreted it as a partial package and there was the selloff [on Monday].”

Today brought the other half of the story investors wanted to hear. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a White House briefing this morning that the administration wants to get stimulus money to citizens “in the next two weeks.” There are no hard details yet on the package, but reports suggest that it could be anywhere from $850 billion to $1 trillion in size.

Then the Fed announced that it is restarting a commercial paper facility, last seen in the 2008 financial crisis, to help provide liquidity to corporations through backing short-term unsecured loans.

“When it comes together, you get positive days on the stock market,” Mathews said.

Then again, tomorrow could be completely different. “If news comes out tomorrow that the infection curve is continuing to steepen, then I think today’s news about the stimulus will take a back seat, like other recent attempts to prop up the economy,” said Dejan Ilijevski, president at Sabela Capital Markets.

In a way, what is happening now is just an exaggeration of an old dynamic. “With the stock market, it’s always greed and fear,” Brown said. “Except it’s a lot more greed and a lot more fear right now.”

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