Wall Street set to wind up pandemic year with gains

Wall Street set to wind up pandemic year with gains

The market's milestone-setting finish follows a mostly upward grind for stocks in recent weeks, fueled by cautious optimism that the USA economy and corporate profits will bounce back in 2021 now that the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is under way.

The nation left the bloc on January 31 but has been in a standstill transition while it sought a free-trade agreement - which was finally clinched on Christmas Eve and was approved by lawmakers on Wednesday. The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended 2020 at record highs Thursday on Wall Street, ending a year that saw a breathtaking nose dive in markets in the spring as the coronavirus took hold, followed by steady gains in the months that followed.

Unprecedented levels of central bank and government stimulus have helped the benchmark S&P 500 index climb nearly 70% from its March low and put it on course for a more than 15% annual gain.

The virus pandemic shocked markets early in the year. The Nasdaq Composite fell 0.1%. The S&P and Nasdaq notched their latest all-time highs on Monday. The Russell 2000 ended the year with a gain of 18.4%.

U.S. stocks fell on Thursday, the last trading day of the year.

"A Brexit deal may have come extremely late in the day but there will be a massive sense of relief that the United Kingdom won't be battling no-deal on top of everything else in the coming months - and that relief can be seen in the pound", Oanda analyst Craig Erlam told AFP.

The U.S. Labor Department's weekly unemployment report is due at 08:30 a.m. ET, which is expected to show a rise in jobless claims, strengthening views of a slowing economic recovery. And the S&P 500 rose or fell by at least 1% on twice as many days in 2020 than it did, on average, since 1950.

Meanwhile, oil investors were shaken as the commodity sold off in April and the price USA oil to be delivered in May turned negative as oversupply, storage concerns and worries about demand during the pandemic coincided.

Thomas said the massive Federal Reserve actions early in the pandemic helped shore up the markets and many companies had learned their lesson from the financial crisis in 2008 and started immediately cutting costs. People will look back at this year and wonder how such market records could have been reached against the backdrop of unprecedented economic hardship, said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.

"For Main Street, it was a bad year", said Briefing.com analyst Patrick O'Hare. "But the other part of this is that there is also no main street stock market".

Globally, COVID-19 deaths here have exceeded 1.8 million.

The US economy remains in deep trouble with millions unemployed and plenty businesses struggling.

The market's milestone-setting finish follows a mostly upward grind for stocks in recent weeks, fueled by cautious optimism that the US economy and corporate profits will bounce back in 2021 now that the distribution of covid-19 vaccines is underway. President-elect Joe Biden's administration plans to keep going to get the economy back on track, and that will help markets next year even if the excitement about them might begin to peter out, Kinahan said.

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