In this image provided by the New York Stock Exchange, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, applauds as he rings the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange with with New York Stock Exchange President Stacey Cunningham, right, Tuesday, May 26, 2020 in New York. The NYSE allowed a limited number of traders back to the floor with social distancing guidelines and face masks. (Courtney Crow/New York Stock Exchange via AP)

Wall Street up as recovery hopes overshadow virus worries

May 26, 2020 - 1:09 pm

Stocks surged on Wall Street in afternoon trading Tuesday, driving the S&P 500 to its highest level in nearly three months, as hopes for economic recovery overshadow worries about the coronavirus pandemic.

The S&P 500 was up 1.9% to 3,012 points. It's the first time the benchmark index has been above the 3,000-point mark since March 5, before the widespread business shutdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the outbreak sent the U.S. economy into a sharp skid.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 660 points, or 2.7%, to 25,122. It's the first time the Dow is above 25,000 points since March 10. The Nasdaq rose 1.1% and the Russell 2000 index of small companies gained 3.3%. Financials, technology and industrial stocks powered much of the broad gains.

The post-Memorial Day rally followed a strong rise in global markets as more nations push to open their economies. The S&P 500 was coming off a solid week and is on track for a second-straight month of gains. The index remains down about 11% from its all-time high in February.

Bond yields were broadly higher, in another sign of optimism. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, a benchmark for interest rates on many consumer loans, rose to 0.70% from 0.66% late Friday.

Oil prices were mixed. Benchmark U.S. crude oil was up 1.3% to $33.69 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, slipped 0.1% to $36.09 a barrel.

Fears of a crushing recession due to the coronavirus sent the S&P 500 into a skid of more than 30% in March. Hopes for a relatively quick rebound and unprecedented moves by the Federal Reserve and Congress to stem the economic pain drove a historic rebound for stocks in April and have bolstered optimism that the market won’t return to the depths seen two months ago.

Fresh optimism about the development of potential vaccines for COVID-19 have also helped lift stocks. Investors are keenly focused on the process of reopening the U.S. economy, which is likely to accelerate over the summer. Concerns remain that reopening businesses could lead to another surge in infections, potentially hobbling efforts to get the nation’s battered economy growing again.

A couple of economic reports gave traders more reason for encouragement Tuesday. The Commerce Department said sales of new U.S. homes inched up 0.6% last month, a surprising gain that hints at the relative health of many consumers. Over the past 12 months, sales are down 6.2%. Meanwhile, the Conference Board said its index of consumer confidence ticked up in May to 86.6 from a reading of 85.7 in April. The index is still down sharply from February's reading, when it climbed to 130.7.

Optimism over the prospect that consumers will be eager and able to spend money as more businesses open helped push cruise line and airline stocks sharply higher. Norwegian Cruise Line climbed 15%, Royal Caribbean jumped 13.8% and United Airlines vaulted 14.3%.

Reassuring comments by the head of China’s central bank helped spur buying in global markets Tuesday. France’s CAC 40 climbed 1.5% as the government was due to unveil support for the auto industry. Germany’s DAX gained 1% and the FTSE 100 in Britain, which was closed on Monday, rose 1.2%. Asian markets closed higher.

In another confidence-boosting development on Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange reopened its trading floor Tuesday for the first time since mid-March, when it closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rang the opening bell at the NYSE, which allowed a limited number of traders back to the floor. It required that traders adhere to social distancing guidelines and wear masks.

“The message of the NYSE reopening is symbolic not only for our community and our country, but it is for the globe,” said Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner at Meridian Equity Partners and one of the NYSE floor traders. “It’s showing that we are ready to reopen our economy and reopen our country and move things in the right direction.”

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AP Video Journalist Ted Shaffrey contributed.

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