Wall St cheered by vaccine roll-out, mega M&A activity

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(Reuters) -Wall Street’s main indexes rose on Monday as consumer stocks surged on the launch of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccine campaign, while Alexion Pharmaceuticals jumped on a $39 billion buyout offer from AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN) in one of the year’s biggest deals.

Administration of the vaccine developed by Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and its German partner BioNTech began on Monday, after the shot received emergency-use approval from federal regulators last week.

The inoculations are seen as pivotal toward ultimately halting the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than a million lives around the world and brought economic activity to a halt.

Consumer discretionary stocks were among the best performing sectors on the S&P 500 on Monday, while travel and leisure stocks, which are among the worst hit by the virus outbreak, also gained.

Cruise operator Carnival (NYSE:CUK) Corp rose 0.8%, while American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) Group added 0.3%.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc (NASDAQ:ALXN) was among the top boosts to the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, surging 31.0% to a 4-1/2 year high after British drugmaker AstraZeneca said it would buy the U.S. biotech firm. AstraZeneca’s U.S.-listed shares fell 6.1%.

“It is a sign that animal spirits are back … companies are reluctant to do deals when they have a negative outlook on the future, but the fact that you are seeing these types of big deals on merger Mondays is a sign of things to come,” said Thomas Hayes, managing member at Great Hill Capital Llc in New York.

At 12:00 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 63.55 points, or 0.21%, at 30,109.92, the S&P 500 was up 13.59 points, or 0.37%, at 3,677.05. The Nasdaq Composite was up 144.87 points, or 1.17%, at 12,522.74.

Uncertainty over more fiscal stimulus had cut short a recent rally in U.S. stocks, after the Senate last week approved a one-week extension of federal funding to avoid a government shutdown and to provide more time for negotiations on coronavirus relief and an overarching spending bill.

“Equities have performed very strongly in what has been a very difficult economic environment … there is some vulnerability there if the market concludes that fiscal support is at its end,” Eric Winograd, senior economist at AllianceBernstein (NYSE:AB) told the Reuters Global Market Forum.

Focus was also on early voting in a pair of U.S. Senate races in Georgia that will determine control of the chamber and heavily influence lawmaking.

E-commerce company Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) Group Holding Ltd shed 2.6% after China warned its internet majors of more anti-trust scrutiny, slapped fines and announced probes into deals involving Alibaba and Tencent Holdings (OTC:TCEHY) Ltd.

Electric-car maker Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) Inc rose 4% as anticipation of the firm’s addition to the S&P 500 benchmark next week offset a report of production delays.

Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) Co fell about 2.7% after rallying on Friday and was the biggest drag on the Dow after BMO Capital Markets downgraded the stock.

The S&P index recorded 25 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 196 new highs and 11 new lows.

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