U.S. stock markets set records as they roar back from brink of bear territory

The major U.S. stock markets shot upward decisively Wednesday after a few days of gloom, and instead of cementing their worst December performance ever, the major indexes look to set single-day records.

Comments by Trump, rising interest rates had threatened to end Wall Street's bull run

The major U.S. stock markets have been on a roller-coaster ride of late, and on Wednesday set their biggest single-day point increases ever after a few days of gloom. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

The major U.S. stock markets shot upward in record fashion Wednesday after a few days of gloom that dragged them to what had been shaping up to be their worst December performance ever.

Instead of pushing into bear-market territory, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index marked their biggest single-day point increases ever.

The Dow closed at 22,878.45, up 1,086.25 points, or five per cent, on the day. The broader-based S&P 500 finished at 2,467.70 points, up 116.6 points, or five per cent.

The Dow's biggest previous one-day point gain was on Oct. 13, 2008, during the turmoil of the global financial crisis, when the index climbed 936 points. The S&P 500 set its previous point record on the same day, at closing up 104 points.  

Stocks had been falling sharply in recent days, since U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at his own central bank, which has hiked its key interest rate four times this year, most recently last week.

There was a risk Wednesday's trading would mark the end of the longest so-called bull run in Wall Street history.

Heading into the day's session, the S&P 500 was on the verge of entering a bear market, defined as a 20 per cent drop from its peak value.

The S&P 500 hit a peak of 2930.75 on Sept. 20, but before Wednesday, it was off 19.8 per cent from that high point, and needed to close down just seven more points to be in bear territory.

The current U.S. bull market — a run-up in stocks free without any declines of 20 per cent or more — began in March 9, 2009, and became the longest ever as of Aug. 22.  

In that time, the S&P 500 quadrupled, the Dow did almost as well, and the tech-laden Nasdaq index climbed 500 per cent, before starting their current declines.

Abysmal December

Canada's TSX index, closed for trading Wednesday due to the Boxing Day holiday, was down 16.8 per cent from its all-time high, set in July. It hasn't soared nearly as much as the major U.S. indexes during the current bull market because it was held back by the oil price collapse in 2015.

Global stock markets had been suffering an abysmal December. Markets in Hong Kong, Japan, France, Britain, Brazil and Mexico are all down for the month.

Markets have been jittery in recent days since reports that U.S. President Donald Trump, left, was discussing firing U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell, right. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

If pre-Wednesday levels had held, it could have led to the worst December on record for the major U.S. markets, despite generally strong economic fundamentals.

"The outsized moves are not reflective of the current U.S. economic landscape, but that seems to matter little so far as fear mongering continues to permeate every pocket of global capital markets," Stephen Innes of OANDA, a currency trading platform, said in a market commentary.

Trump administration officials spent the weekend trying to assure jittery financial markets that U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell's job was safe. On Tuesday, Trump reiterated his view that the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates too fast, but called the independent agency's rate hikes a "form of safety" for an economy doing well.

Trump has also reportedly been upset over the last week with his treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who advised him to appoint Powell to the Fed job.

With files from The Associated Press