US stocks end lower again as COVID-19 fears offset vaccine optimism

New York City's move to temporarily close schools because of the coronavirus offset optimism about COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, November 18, weighing on United States stocks two days after major indices hit records.

Equities were choppy throughout the day, but took a distinct downward path once New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the school closures after the city hit its target of a 7-day average coronavirus positivity rate of 3%.

The move came as US coronavirus cases tick higher, with Johns Hopkins University reporting nearly 162,000 new cases in the last day.

"This is a tug of war between vaccine excitement and nervous trepidation" about the virus, said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities.

Major US indices finished the day about 1% lower. Both the Dow and S&P 500 finished at records on Monday, November 16, but have now fallen the last two days.

"For most of the day, the market struggled to gain any traction despite a host of positive news related to a vaccine, economic data, and corporate earnings," said a note from 

"Presumably, this was because the market was pricing in a lot of the good news in its record-setting rally this month and needed to consolidate those gains."

Earlier, European equities had advanced following an upbeat announcement from Pfizer and BioNTech.

The two pharma companies said a completed analysis of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine found it protected 95% of people against the disease – up from early data showing 90% efficacy, and announced they were applying for US emergency approval "within days."

Frankfurt and Paris both finished 0.5% higher, while London added 0.3%.

Markets anticipate that broad distribution of vaccines should enable the economy to normalize in 2021, boosting especially hard-hit sectors such as airlines and entertainment stocks.

Petroleum-related stocks are also beneficiaries from an economic rebound. Crude prices rose around 1% – a day after the OPEC+ club of oil producers agreed they had to be ready to act on output cuts to prevent another slump in prices.

Bitcoin continued its rally, surging above $18,000 in Asian trading hours, before pulling back.

Among individual companies, Boeing ended 3.2% lower after the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the 737 MAX to resume service following a 20-month shutdown. Shares had initially soared after the announcement, which had been widely expected.

Disney dipped 0.4% after S&P slashed the credit rating on the entertainment company, citing the drag from the coronavirus on Disney's theme park business.

Key figures around 9:50 pm GMT
  • New York - Dow: DOWN 1.2% at 29,438.42 (close)
  • New York - S&P 500: DOWN 1.2% at 3,567.79 (close)
  • New York - Nasdaq: DOWN 0.8% at 11,801.60 (close)
  • London - FTSE 100: UP 0.3% at 6,385.24 (close)
  • Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.5% at 13,201.89 (close)
  • Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.5% at 5,511.45 (close)
  • EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.4% at 3,482.17 (close) 
  • Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.1% at 25,728.14 (close)
  • Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.5% at 26,544.29 (close)
  • Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.2% at 3,347.30 (close)
  • Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1853 from $1.1852 at 10 pm GMT
  • Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3270 from $1.3199
  • Dollar/yen: DOWN at 103.86 yen from 104.58 yen
  • Euro/pound: DOWN at 89.33 pence from 89.79 pence
  • West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.9% at $41.82 per barrel
  • Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.4% at $44.34 per barrel