Australia markets closed

Wall Street ends choppy session higher

Sinead Carew

Wall Street's main indexes have closed higher after choppy trading, with bank stocks soaring ahead of annual stress test results and helping to offset investor jitters over alarming increases in coronavirus cases.

The recently battered S&P 500 banks sub-index led the gainers for the session after US banking regulators eased rules and investors waited for results of the sector's annual stress test, which helps determine dividend policies.

The bank index had fallen 19 per cent from its recent high on June 5 to Wednesday's lowest point.

It closed up 3.6 per cent on Thursday.

But investors remained nervous throughout the day as the number of new virus cases in US states grew, especially in the country's west and south.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he was halting his state's phased economic reopening in response to a jump in COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations.

And stocks wobbled temporarily late in the session after Apple Inc said it would close 14 stores in Florida again due to rising COVID-19 cases after other re-closures in Houston, Arizona, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

A flare-up in virus cases in recent days has taken some wind out of a Wall Street rally powered by hopes of a quick economic recovery and massive government stimulus efforts.

However, the benchmark S&P 500 still closed less than 9.0 per cent below its February 19 record.

While bank stocks provided one of the biggest boosts on Thursday, Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said investors were buying the dip after a pullback in stocks on Wednesday.

"None of those issues that caused yesterday's weakness were really resolved today," said James.

"You could argue that the market could be a fair amount lower. The reason we're not is there is still some understanding that things are going to have a brighter ending at some point."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 299.66 points, or 1.18 per cent, to 25,745.6, the S&P 500 gained 33.43 points, or 1.10 per cent, to 3,083.76 and the Nasdaq Composite added 107.84 points, or 1.09 per cent, to 10,017.00.

All the three major indexes had opened Thursday's session lower after data showed the number of people in the US filing claims for unemployment benefits fell less than expected last week, likely as hiring by reopening businesses is being partly offset by a second wave of lay-offs.

But the S&P's financial sector, up 2.7 per cent, stayed strong for the session and was the S&P's top percentage gainer.

Earlier, regulators had unveiled two rules easing restrictions covering large banks with complex trading and investment portfolios.

The Federal Reserve was due to release results of annual bank stress tests after the markets close, potentially indicating how much flexibility banks will have to return capital to shareholders.

"The risk-reward bias favours a more positive bias into the results this evening because the sector has been such a laggard," said Wedbush's James.

The energy sector gained 1.9 per cent as oil prices rose 2.0 per cent on the day.

Defensive utilities was the weakest S&P sector with a 1.2 per cent decline.

Walt Disney Co, down 0.63 per cent, pared losses but still closed down for the second day in a row after it delayed the reopening of theme parks due to the health crisis.

A report also said it was considering postponing the July 24 release of Mulan.

Boeing Co fell 1.0 per cent as rival Airbus reached a crucial jetliner production target and smoothed recent industrial problems.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.81-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.00-to-1 ratio favoured advancers.

The S&P 500 posted five new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 63 new highs and eight new lows.

On US exchanges 11.38 billion shares changed hands compared with the 13.32 billion average for the last 20 sessions.