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Global rally slows, but optimism over vaccine remains high

Stan Choe and Damian J. Troise
Associated Press

New York – A worldwide stock market rally slowed down on Tuesday even as optimism remains high that the global economy may be on track for a return to normal. It’s the second straight day that rising hopes for a coronavirus vaccine have investors reordering which stocks they see winning and losing.

The S&P 500 fell 0.1%, pulled down by drops in Big Tech companies like Microsoft, which have managed to thrive amidst the pandemic shutdowns. The tech-heavy Nasdaq fell, but small-company stocks and crude oil prices rose in a sign of improving confidence in the broader economy.

This July 16, 2013 file photo shows a street sign for Wall Street outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York.

Treasury yields and oil are holding most of their big gains from a day before or adding a little more amid the increased confidence in the economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 155 points, or 0.5%, at 29,314, while the Nasdaq composite was down 1.5%.

The flashpoint for all the moves was Monday’s announcement from Pfizer that a potential COVID-19 vaccine it’s developing with German partner BioNTech may be 90% effective, based on early but incomplete test results.

“This was such an environment of exuberance, which makes sense given some pretty compelling statistics” about immunity response for the vaccine candidate, said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist for Invesco. “But there are still a number of steps between now and distribution.”

Stocks of smaller U.S. companies, which tend to move more with expectations for the economy than their bigger counterparts, were rising more than the rest of the U.S. market. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks was up 1.6%.

Several areas of the market that got beaten down through the pandemic and whose low prices make them look like potentially better values were leading the way. Energy stocks in the S&P 500 rose 0.9%, for example, though they’re still down nearly 45% for 2020.

“We’re seeing a continuation of this value trade that really took off in earnest yesterday,” said Brian Price, head of investment management for Commonwealth Financial Network. “We’re seeing follow through today, which is good news for those who have maintained a diversified portfolio.”

But he said there needs to be more economic growth for a sustained recovery by many of the companies and sectors beaten down by the virus pandemic.

The Big Tech stocks that carried the stock market through the pandemic, meanwhile, are suddenly facing more scrutiny about whether they still deserve their high prices. Their stocks soared through 2020 on expectations they’ll continue to thrive whether the economy is in lockdown mode. But that’s left their prices looking too expensive to critics, even after accounting for their huge profits.

Amazon, which is one of those Big Tech stay-at-home winners, fell 3.5%. It also is facing antitrust charges filed by European Union regulators on Tuesday that accuse it of using its access to data to gain an unfair advantage over merchants using its platform.

Microsoft fell 3.6%, and Facebook lost 3.2%. Those drops have outsized effects on the S&P 500 because they’re some of the largest companies in the index by market value.

The S&P 500 is already up more than 8% in November so far. Not only are hopes for a coronavirus vaccine helping to lift markets, so is clearing uncertainty about who will control the government next year.

Democrat Joe Biden over the weekend clinched the last of the electoral votes needed to become the next president. Republicans, meanwhile, appear likely to keep control of the Senate.

That’s a “Goldilocks” scenario for many investors because it could mean low tax rates and other pro-business policies remain while a more stable and predictable set of policies come out of the White House. More than anything, though, a Biden win would wipe out the uncertainty that dogged the market through the long, vicious fight for the White House.

But analysts warn many risks still hang over the market, which could easily upend all the gains made in the last couple weeks.

The biggest may be whether investors have become too convinced about a potential COVID-19 vaccine. While early results are encouraging, no vaccine is about to go on the market, and there’s no guarantee that one will or the timing of it.

Coronavirus counts, meanwhile, continue to surge at worrying rates across Europe and the United States. It’s troubling enough in Europe that several governments have brought back restrictions on businesses.

And uncertainty could easily swamp Washington again. President Donald Trump has refused to concede to Biden and is blocking government officials from cooperating with the president-elect’s team. Some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are rallying behind Trump’s efforts to fight the election results.

The Republican control of the Senate that markets seem to be so heavily banking on also depends on the outcome of a pair of runoff elections in Georgia in January.

Still, optimism remains across markets.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury held steady at 0.95%, but it’s still close to its highest level since March. Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 2.3% to $41.21 per barrel amid hopes a stronger economy will burn more fuel. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 2.5% to $43.36 per barrel.

European markets rose, while Asian markets ended modestly higher.

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AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed.