The Dow Jones rallied around 100 points on Thursday, broaching new highs after China unexpectedly slashed tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods.
Unfortunately for stock market bulls, the tariff cuts don’t necessarily signal further progress in U.S.-China trade negotiations. They may just hint at how severely the coronavirus outbreak threatens to rock the world’s second-largest economy.
All three of the major U.S. stock market indices traded in the green on Thursday. The Nasdaq led the way with a 0.54% gain, while the S&P 500 ticked 0.26% higher.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average brought up the rear.
As of 3:19 pm ET, the Dow had gained 72.59 points or 0.25% to settle at 29,363.44. The Dow pierced the 29,400 mark earlier in the session to set a new all-time high.
Volatility remains high in the commodity sector, and oil prices diverged in late afternoon trading.
WTI crude rose 0.69% to edge past $51 per barrel, while Brent crude declined 0.29% to settle just above $55 per barrel.
The price of gold jumped 0.5% higher, and silver surged over 1.25%.
Donald Trump dominated headlines in Washington on Thursday. The president delivered a lengthy – and bombastic – speech celebrating his acquittal from being impeached.
This was never a particularly significant event for the Dow Jones. But combined with chaos at the Iowa caucuses, it has stock market bulls feeling confident about four more years of deregulation and tax cuts.
On the data front, initial jobless claims beat expectations, mixing with a strong ADP employment figure on Wednesday.
Wall Street also cheered China’s decision to cut tariffs on U.S. imports. But the danger is that Beijing is doing this out of desperation – not a desire for closer relations with Washington.
As the coronavirus outbreak spirals, economic forecasts are growing increasingly bleak. More and more companies are warning shareholders that the damage could show up in their quarterly results.
Economists at ING are concerned that Chinese consumer spending is about to take a massive haircut too. They warned in a recent report:
Our latest forecasts assume that the epidemic is not contained within China, and there is some ‘community transmission’ in major economies. Taking the US as a guide, we reckon roughly 18-20% of consumer spending is directly exposed to the ‘fear’ factor.
The damage won’t be isolated to China. The economists predict that a bubbly U.S. stock market could face a greater threat than its counterparts in Europe and Asia.
A generalised shift to risk aversion will likely see equity markets sell-off, though how far they fall may be highly dependent on how stretched their valuations had previously been, so US markets may be more exposed here than some in Europe or Asia.
That’s not surprising since the Dow, S&P 500, and Nasdaq are all ranging at or near record highs.
The Dow is particularly vulnerable since several of its members – including Apple and Nike – rely heavily on consumer spending in cash-flush China.
On a mixed day for the Dow 30, Boeing (NYSE: BA) buoyed the index with an impressive 3.35% rally.
This move came despite concerns about a Dutch investigation into an old Boeing 737 NG plane crash that bore striking similarities to those involving the 737 MAX.
Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) rallied too, climbing nearly 1%. Investors brushed off concerns about the company’s ability to aggressively increase AirPods production amid coronavirus-related supply chain struggles.
Fellow trillion-dollar company Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) climbed 1.6%, while Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) resumed its slide with a 1.3% loss.