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Dow Swings Wildly After Trial ‘Flop’ Ignites Coronavirus Drug Fears

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:53 PM
Francois Aure
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:53 PM
  • The Dow Jones was knocked from its highs on Thursday after the leading candidate for a coronavirus treatment failed a big test.
  • A strong start to the day saw the stock market initially shrug off another 4 million jobless claims.
  • ING reports that less than half of working-age Americans will have a paycheck next month.

A resurgent Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) slammed into a wall on Thursday after Gilead Sciences’ experimental coronavirus treatment drug reportedly “flopped” in its first trial.

The Financial Times broke the story, which triggered wild volatility across the stock market but especially in GILD – whose shares were halted.

Gilead defended the potential of remdesivir, but the incident highlights the difficulty of fast-tracking a COVID-19 treatment as the U.S. economic predicament continues to worsen.

Dow Dives Off Its Highs After Coronavirus Drug ‘Flops’

Dow Jones, Gilead Sciences, Jobless Claims,
The Dow Jones reversed sharply after the first trial of Remdesivir flopped. | Source: Yahoo Finance 

All three major U.S. stock market indices  lost ground after the remdesivir news broke and remained volatile throughout the afternoon session.

  • The Dow rose 147.92 points or 0.63% to 23,623.74.
  • The S&P 500 gained 0.39% to trade at 2,810.05.
  • The Nasdaq climbed 0.43% to 8,532.09.

Crude oil provided another lift for the stock market. WTI futures surged 23% to $17 per barrel, while Brent rose 6% to $21.50.

With several U.S. states planning to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions, and other nations lifting quarantine measures as well, oil consumption is expected to tick up, though the market remains deeply oversupplied.

The price of gold rallied 0.6% to just beneath the $1,750 handle.

Why Gilead Sciences Infected the Entire Stock Market

Gilead Sciences’ hotly-anticipated drug remdesivir was the presumptive frontrunner in the race to bring a coronavirus treatment to market. Unfortunately, it appears that the first trial did not go well .

But as GILD stock collapsed into a trading halt, many analysts pushed back against the findings, including CNBC host Jim Cramer.

Gilead Sciences, Remsdivir,
Source: Jim Cramer via Twitter 

Dow Jones Shrugs Off Massive Round of Jobless Claims

The Dow Jones seems immune to the increasingly-grisly U.S. unemployment situation . The government reported 4.4 million new jobless claims on Thursday. That’s technically a minor improvement on last week’s data, but it leaves 27 million Americans out of work in just five weeks.

The cumulation of all these layoffs gives rise to a very sobering thought. According to ING economist James Knightley, it’s likely that less than half of working-age U.S. adults will earn a paycheck in May.

If we assume unemployment has risen 20 million in April, that would push the unemployment rate to around 16%. An additional 10 million unemployed in May and we are looking at an unemployment rate of around 22%.

Thankfully this is below the 24.9% peak experienced in 1933, but we have to remember that one third of Americans aged 18-65 are not classified as employed or unemployed – they are students, early retirement, homemakers, carers or sick. This leads us to yet another sobering statistic – that less than half of working-age Americans will be earning a wage next month.

The Dow continues to indicate that it has priced in economic devastation on this scale. But once again, Wall Street’s nonchalant reaction to the data left some investors scratching their heads.

The painful economic data wasn’t isolated to the United States. The U.K. recorded its worst-ever PMI reading, suggesting it is enduring the worst economic downturn in centuries , according to the Bank of England.

Dow Stocks: Big Oil Booms & Boeing Ticks Higher Despite Lawsuit

The Dow 30 was a mixed bag on Thursday , as volatile conditions made the index a mishmash of risk-off and risk-on.

Two of the big winners were energy stocks Exxon Mobil and Chevron, who rallied roughly 3% as crude oil boomed.

Boeing (+2%) managed a slight recovery despite the fact it is being sued for $336 million over a canceled 737 MAX order .

Helping support the index was a major bounce from its most heavily weighted stock, UnitedHealth Group, which posted a 4% gain.

Apple, the next heaviest stock in the DJIA, traded mostly flat.