Dow soars to new heights on promising vaccine news

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U.S. stocks jumped Monday, with the Dow notching a fresh all-time high after promising trial news from Moderna left investors hopeful that the country may have two coronavirus vaccines available on a limited basis by the end of 2020.

© Dado Ruvic/Reuters Moderna vials. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

After a preliminary analysis, biotechnology firm Moderna reported that its experimental coronavirus vaccine, which it is co-developing with the National Institutes of Health, was almost 95 percent effective at preventing illness, including severe cases. The news comes just days after pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech reported that its experimental vaccine was 90 percent effective, spurring optimism on Wall Street that powered the S&P 500 to a record Friday.

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By 11:30 a.m., the Dow Jones industrial average was up nearly 450 points, or 1.5 percent, at 29,920. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index advanced 1.08 percent to 3,623. The tech-heavy Nasdaq edged up .64 percent to 11,905, even as investors turned away from tech stocks that have been favorites in the pandemic.

“With Moderna reporting such positive results, investors have another piece of the puzzle on how we will solve the current health crisis,” Wayne Wicker, chief investment officer at Vantagepoint Funds, said in an email to The Washington Post. “While the next few months may contain some tragic statistics associated with Covid 19, investors are looking forward 9-18 months with a vision that we will be returning to a more normal environment.”

The promising vaccine news comes as the United States braces for what many expect to be the darkest period of the pandemic. The total number of reported U.S. coronavirus cases surpassed 11 million on Sunday, only one week after hitting the 10 million mark. The number of fatalities from the virus now stands at more than 245,000.

Moderna’s stock soared nearly 8 percent after opening bell. Investors flocked back to companies whose stocks have been heavily battered by the pandemic, especially in travel and hospitality. Carnival cruises climbed 9 percent, while United Airlines rose 5.7 percent and American Airlines gained 4.5 percent.

“Energy stocks and travel & leisure stocks will be the first benefactors on this news as they have been some of the hardest hit sectors due to distancing and shutdowns,” Anthony Denier, chief executive of the app-based brokerage Webull, said in an email to The Post. “We will also see a rotation out of the stay at home winners like tech and media as portfolios start to rebalance for a re-opened economy.”

Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was one of three people briefed on the Moderna data by an independent committee Sunday morning, called the results “as good as it gets.” He predicted that some doses could be available for high-risk people before the end of 2020 and become widely available in the spring.

Unlike Pfizer, which invested $2 billion of its own money in researching and developing a vaccine, Moderna is part of Operation Warp Speed, a government initiative designed to erase the financial risk of vaccine and therapeutics development by providing upfront funding to companies and helping coordinate the trials. Moderna received $2.5 billion from the U.S. government to support research, development and manufacturing of its vaccine candidate, while Pfizer signed a contract to sell doses to the U.S. government.

Hopes of an accelerated return to normalcy fueled higher risk appetites on Wall Street. Gold, a haven for investors in uncertain times, edged down .6 percent to trade at $1,874 per ounce. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note edged higher to .911 percent. Bond yields rise as prices drop.

Asian markets soared Monday after China and Japan joined forces with more than a dozen economies in the region to sign the world’s largest trade deal, covering about 30 percent of the global population and a similar share of economic output, after eight years of negotiations. It is the second major trade pact in two years that excludes the United States.

Oil markets also rose Monday amid the optimism. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was trading up 3.2 percent, at $44.14 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. oil benchmark, rose 3.7 percent, to trade at $41.60 per barrel.

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