Business

Stock markets bounce back up as see-saw trading continues, Dow up 746 points

Good news on jobs and trade, comments by U.S. Fed chair buoy investor sentiment

Posted: January 04, 2019
Last Updated: January 04, 2019

A digital board shows the German share price index DAX, one of many strongly higher stock markets on Friday. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

Global stocks soared Friday and reversed the big losses they suffered just a day earlier. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 746 points in the latest twist in a wild three months for markets.

Hopes for progress in the U.S.-China trade dispute, a strong report on the U.S. jobs market and encouraging comments from the head of the U.S. central bank about its interest rate policy all combined to cheer investors.

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China's Commerce Ministry said trade talks will be held Monday and Tuesday in Beijing, and investors will again look for signs the world's largest economic powers are resolving their dispute. The tensions have dragged on for nearly a year, slowing business and dragging down stock indexes worldwide.

Meanwhile the U.S. Labor Department said employers added 312,000 jobs last month, a far stronger result than experts had anticipated. U.S. stocks have tumbled since October as investors worried that the economy might slow down dramatically because of challenges including the trade dispute and rising interest rates.

The stock market's plunge also threatened to shake up the confidence and the spending plans of businesses and consumers. Some analysts said investors were acting as if a recession was on the horizon, despite a lack of evidence that the U.S. economy is struggling.

"It's hard to square recession worries with the strongest job growth we've seen in years," said Alec Young, managing director of global markets research for FTSE Russell.

Stocks rose even further after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank will be flexible in deciding if and when it raises interest rates. He added that the Fed is open to making changes in the way it shrinks its giant portfolio of bonds, which affects rates on long-term loans such as mortgages.

Until recently, the Fed had suggested it planned to raise short-term interest rates three times this year and next, and Powell said the Fed's balance sheet was shrinking "on auto-pilot." Wall Street feared the Fed might be moving too fast in raising borrowing costs, said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors.

The Fed's interest-rate and bond portfolio policies "were at the top of the list of things we were concerned about, which is why the statement Powell made today is so supportive of the market," Orlando said. "The Fed understands that what they attempted to communicate last month was inartful, that they didn't get the right message across, and Powell tried to reset."

The S&P 500 index climbed 84.05 points, or 3.4 per cent, to 2,531.94, more than wiping out Thursday's loss. The Dow rose 3.3 per cent to 23,433.16 after gaining 832 during the afternoon. The Nasdaq composite jumped 275.35 points, or 4.3 per cent, to 6,738.86.

About 90 per cent of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange traded higher.

In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index closed up 213.87 points or 1.5 per cent to 14,426.62.

Volatile trading

Stocks sank Thursday after Apple said iPhone sales in China are falling, partly because of the trade fight, and a survey suggested U.S. factories grew at a weaker pace. Technology companies took their biggest losses in seven years.

The U.S. and China have raised tariffs on billions of dollars of each other's goods in a fight over issues including Beijing's technology policy. Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day ceasefire as a step toward defusing tensions, but that failed to calm the stock market.

Technology companies, banks, health-care and industrial companies all made strong gains. Most of the companies in those industries stand to do better in times of faster economic growth.

Smaller and more U.S.-focused companies did even better than larger multinationals. The Russell 2000 index surged 49.92 points, or 3.8 per cent, to 1,380.75. Smaller companies have fallen further than larger ones in the last few months as investors got nervous about how the U.S. economy will perform in 2019 and 2020.

Stocks have whipsawed between huge gains and losses for the last few weeks after their big December plunge. Katie Nixon, the chief investment officer for Northern Trust Wealth Management, said investors will continue to react to the health of the economy, and to concerns about high levels of corporate debt as interest rates rise.

"We don't expect that this will be the end to the volatility," she said. "There's mounting evidence we're going to see a slowdown," albeit not a severe one.

Bond prices also changed course and moved sharply lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.66 per cent after it plunged to 2.55 per cent Thursday, its lowest in almost a year. That helps banks, as higher interest rates allow them to make bigger profits on mortgages and other loans.

Rest of the world

European shares also overcome losses from a day earlier, with Germany's DAX gaining 3.4 per cent and France's CAC 40 rising 2.7 per cent. Britain's FTSE 100 advanced 2.2 per cent.

In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 2.2 per cent. South Korea's Kospi added 0.8 per cent. Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 2.3 per cent on its first day of trading in 2019 as technology and electronics makers slumped on Apple's report that Chinese iPhone sales were slipping.

U.S. crude oil added 1.8 per cent to $47.96 US a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, was up two per cent to $57.06 per barrel in London.

The U.S. dollar strengthened. It rose to 108.51 yen from 107.77 yen. The euro rose to $1.14 US from $1.1391. The British pound moved up to $1.2740 US from $1.2630.

Wholesale gasoline dipped 0.1 per cent to $1.35 a gallon and heating oil added 1.6 per cent to $1.77 a gallon. Natural gas rose 3.4 per cent to $3.04 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In other trading, gold fell 0.7 per cent to $1,285.80 an ounce and silver slipped 0.1 per cent to $15.79 an ounce. Copper rose 3.1 per cent to $2.65 a pound.‚Äč