Wall Street Surges Back: Best Quarter Since Bill Clinton Presidency

‘Broadly speaking, the market is reacting to economic data that is better than expected…’

Woman in mask at NY stock exchange

A woman wearing a mask passes the New York Stock Exchange. / PHOTO: Associated Press

(Associated Press) Wall Street capped its best quarter since 1998 Tuesday with more gains, a fitting end to a stunning three months for investors as the market screamed back toward its record heights after a torrid plunge.

The S&P 500 climbed 1.5%, bringing its gain for the quarter to nearly 20%. That rebound followed a 20% drop in the first three months of the year, the market’s worst quarter since the 2008 financial crisis.

The plunge came as the coronavirus pandemic ground the economy to a halt and millions of people lost their jobs.

“It’s the first time you’ve had back-to-back [quarters]) like this since the 1930s,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. “It’s pretty unprecedented.”

.

The whiplash that ripped through markets in the second quarter came as investors looked beyond dire unemployment numbers and became increasingly hopeful that the economy can pull out of its severe, sudden recession relatively quickly.

The hopes looked prescient after reports during the quarter showed that employers resumed hiring again and retail sales rebounded as governments relaxed lockdown orders meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The quarter’s gains were ignited by promises of massive amounts of aid from the Federal Reserve and Congress. Low interest rates generally push investors toward stocks and away from the low payments made by bonds, and the Federal Reserve has pinned short-term interest rates at their record low of nearly zero.

The S&P 500 gained 47.05 points to 3,100.29 on Tuesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 217.08 points, or 0.9%, to 25,812.88. It had briefly been down 120 points. The Nasdaq composite climbed 184.61 points, or 1.9%, to 10,058.77.

The S&P 500 has rallied back to within nearly 8.4% of its record set in February, after being down nearly 34% in late March. At one point earlier this month, it had climbed as close as 4.5%.

Technology, health care and financial companies powered much of the market’s broad gains Friday. The buying accelerated after a report showed stronger-than-expected improvement in consumer confidence this month.

“Broadly speaking, the market is reacting to economic data that is better than expected,” said Brent Schutte, chief investment strategist at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management.

Schutte said the market is being supported by the likelihood that there won’t be a nationwide shutdown again, aggressive monetary policy and hopes for a vaccine sooner rather than later. “The path of least resistance is still two steps forward, one step back,” he said.