Markets mixed as investors keep eye on lifted coronavirus lockdowns

Markets mixed as investors keep eye on lifted coronavirus lockdownsA worker cleans near a bank's currency advertisement board in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

Stocks are mixed in tentative early trading on Wall Street Tuesday, as investors wait to see how well the lifting of lockdowns around the world goes.

The S&P 500 and other U.S. indexes were flipping between small gains and losses, following up on mixed performances in Europe and Asia. Treasury yields were down slightly, but a measure of nervousness in the U.S. stock market also touched its lowest level in two months.

Governments around the world and in many U.S. states have begun gradually lifting restrictions on businesses, which were meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak but also threw the economy into a severe recession. Expectations that the reopenings will lead to a resumption of growth later this year have helped drive the S&P 500 about 30% higher since late March. But South Korea and other countries further ahead in removing restrictions have also seen a small but notable increase in infections recently. That’s keeping enthusiasm in check.

“Re-opening economies is riddled with risks,” analyst Hayaki Narita of Mizuho Bank said in a commentary.

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The S&P 500 was down 0.1%, as of 9:49 a.m. Eastern time, after swinging down from a gain of 0.5% shortly after the opening of trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 58 points, or 0.2%, at 24,280 , while the Nasdaq was down 0.2%.

If the Nasdaq can swing back to the gain it had earlier in the morning, it would the seventh straight day that the index has climbed. It hasn’t had such a streak that long since late last year, before the pandemic struck.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX was up 0.2%, while France’s CAC 40 was down 0.4%. The FTSE 100 in London was 1.1% higher. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 slipped 0.1%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 1.4% and South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.7%.

Treasurys were some of the first investments to signal the economic devastation coming from the pandemic. The yield on the 10-year Treasury edged down to 0.71% from 0.72% late Monday. That’s above its record low of just below 0.50% set in early March, but still well below the roughly 1.90% level where it started the year.

Stocks whose profits are most closely tied to the strength of the economy had some of the sharpest losses, though they were also swinging up and down. Energy producers in the S&P 500 fell 0.7%, for example, as did financial stocks. They’ve struggled this year on worries that the recession will mean little demand for oil and a wave of defaults on loans.

Many companies are reporting first quarter earnings, often opting to give no financial forecasts due to overwhelming uncertainty over what lies ahead. That was true of Toyota Motor Corp., whose shares fell 2% on Tuesday as it reported its net profit dropped nearly 90% in the January-March quarter from a year earlier, though it said it expected a recovery as the pandemic is brought under control.

In the United States, Simon Property Group likewise said it’s currently impossible to predict how the pandemic will affect its results, and it withdrew its financial forecast for 2020. But it rose 4.7% for one of the biggest gains in the S&P 500 after it said it plans to have about half of its U.S. shopping malls reopened within the next week.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil climbed 4.7% to $25.32 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, added 1.3% to $30.01.

The VIX index, which measures the likelihood traders see of volatile swings for the S&P 500, dipped back to its lowest level since early March.


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