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Wall Street ends higher to stem coronavirus sell-off

U.S. stocks managed to post gains on Thursday after recent steep losses as policymakers around the world took further emergency actions to try to help financial markets cope with deep coronavirus-driven economic damage.

Nasdaq outperformed other major indexes, ending 2.3% higher, fueled by gains in Amazon.com (AMZN.O), Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Facebook (FB.O).

The Federal Reserve opened swap lines with central banks in nine new countries to ensure the world’s dollar-dependent financial system continued to function.

It was the latest in a host of steps taken by the U.S. central bank over the last two weeks, including cutting borrowing costs to near zero and providing billions of dollars more for cheap credit.

The European Central Bank pledged late on Wednesday to buy 750 billion euros ($820 billion) in sovereign debt through 2020.

President Donald Trump called on U.S. health regulators to expedite potential therapies aimed at treating COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, and the White House sounded upbeat on the chances of passage of hundreds of billions of dollars of aid in Congress.

Policymakers will need to keep providing support in order to provide liquidity to the financial system, said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

“It is not just about the Fed,” Krosby said. “It is about the fiscal side of the equation. The question for the market is, how much do we actually need, and the severity of the crisis is suggesting we’re going to need amounts we never initially thought of.”

Even with the emergency moves, analysts poll gave a median 80% chance of a U.S. recession this year. Bank of America’s economics team in a note Thursday said, “the U.S. recession is here.”

The recent sharp market volatility continued, with the S&P 500 index falling as much as 3.3% during the session.

And Thursday’s gains did little to restore the markets after the pounding stocks have suffered in the past month. The S&P 500 remains down about 29% from the record closing high it hit a month ago after last week confirming its first bear market since the financial crisis, and the Dow erased virtually the last of its gains under Trump’s presidency on Wednesday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 188.27 points, or 0.95%, to 20,087.19, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 11.29 points, or 0.47%, to 2,409.39 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 160.73 points, or 2.3%, to 7,150.58.

Helping the day’s sentiment, U.S. crude oil prices spiked by 25% in their largest single-day gain on record, while the S&P 500 energy index .SPNY rose 6.8%, leading gains among S&P 500 sectors.

“Active investors are using this as an opportunity to maybe pick up what might be perceived as bargains because nobody’s really sure how to value stocks right now,” said Robert Pavlik, chief investment strategist and senior portfolio manager at SlateStone Wealth LLC in New York.

Ford Motor Co (F.N) was the latest major U.S. corporation to bolster its cash reserves to ride out the virus impact, drawing down more than $15 billion from existing credit lines. Ford shares ended down 0.7%.

The virus’ impact on jobs was also in focus as official data showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surged to a 2-1/2-year high last week as companies in the services sector laid off workers because of the pandemic.

Late on Wednesday, New York Stock Exchange owner Intercontinental Exchange Inc (ICE.N) said the market would temporarily close its trading floors and move fully to electronic trading starting next week.

While the S&P 500 added $94 billion in market capitalization on Thursday, it is down $8.09 trillion since its Feb. 19 record close, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices’ analyst Howard Silverblatt.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.64-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.21-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted three new 52-week highs and 94 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 13 new highs and 569 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 17.08 billion shares, compared to the 15 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.