Wall St slips on grim earnings, virus fear


The S&P 500 and Dow Jones have slipped, giving up early gains as concerns about dismal first-quarter earnings and lasting economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic offset better-than-expected weekly jobless claims numbers.

A 4.7 per cent fall for Boeing drove the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrials down more than one per cent, as European rival Airbus said it was examining requests to defer deliveries after a collapse in travel demand.

The Nasdaq outperformed the broader market with Amazon and Microsoft boosting the tech-heavy index for the fifth session in six.

Wall Street has swung this week between hopes of a peaking in coronavirus cases and fears of the biggest economic slump since the Great Depression, as lockdown measures crushed consumer spending and business activity.

Latest data showed jobless claims fell slightly to 5.2 million last week from an upwardly revised 6.62 million the week before, but the total figure for the past month still topped a stunning 20 million.

Andrew Smith, chief investment officer of Delos Capital Advisors in Dallas, said investors are still coming to grips with what is happening around the globe.

“We are still struggling to grab a foothold on the deterioration of what’s going on,” he said.

“The jobless claims number is better than what economists expected, but it’s still a little too soon to be extrapolating to the ‘all clear ahead’ road.”

After a 27 per cent rally from its March lows, the S&P 500 index still stands 18 per cent below its record high as first-quarter earnings kicked off with US banks preparing for a wave of future loan defaults following a halt in business activity.

Analysts estimate earnings for S&P 500 companies slumped 12.8 per cent in the first quarter, with US economic growth expected to have contracted at its fastest pace since World War II.

US President Donald Trump is now expected to announce “new guidelines” for re-opening the economy at a news conference on Thursday, as he said data suggested the US had passed the peak on new infections.

David Bahnsen, chief investment officer at Bahnsen Group in Newport Beach, California, said there were still many unknowns.

“What the market cannot price in perfectly is when the economy re-opens, what its nuances will look like and what its impact will be on corporate profits one quarter, two quarters and a year away,” he said.

Morgan Stanley wrapped up earnings for the big US lenders, reporting a plunge in quarterly profit as its advisory and wealth management businesses took a hit from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

The bank subsector dropped 3.9 per cent on Thursday.

At 10.19am local time, the S&P 500 was down 12.13 points, or 0.44 per cent, at 2771.23 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 245.72 points, or 1.05 per cent, at 23,258.63. The Nasdaq Composite was up 28.97 points, or 0.35 per cent, at 8422.15.

The Philadelphia chip index rose one per cent after the world’s largest contract chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) reported a near doubling in first-quarter net profit.

However, United Airlines slipped 10.5 per cent as the carrier said it cut its flight schedule by 90 per cent for May and warned travel demand now “essentially at zero shows no sign of improving in the near term”.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers more than 3-to-1 on the NYSE and 1.6-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 11 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 33 new highs and 21 new lows.

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