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  • The Dow closed at record highs and the S&P 500 remained close to record levels.
  • There was a somewhat defensive bias, but major indices shrugged off Archegos Capital liquidation news, higher yields and pandemic worries.
  • Small cap stocks were hit amid concerns about rising Covid-19 cases, however, with Biden urging for re-opening efforts to pause.

It was broadly quiet a subdued session in US equity markets on Monday, which is unsurprising given risk events later in the week including the quarter-end and Biden’s infrastructure package announcement on Wednesday, the March ISM manufacturing survey on Thursday and jobs data on Friday (which is the Good Friday US public holiday). The S&P 500 finished the session very marginally lower in the 3970s, less than 20 points from recently printed all-time high levels. The Dow Jones Industrial Average managed to post a record close at 33,170, up 0.3% on the day while the Nasdaq 100 saw very modest 0.1% losses. Small caps performed poorly with the Russell 2000 dropping 2.8%. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) jumped 1.88 vols to 20.74.

Driving the day

The main story in US equity markets on Monday was the implosion of Archegos Capital Management. The stocks of a few banks liked to the fund (Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank) were hit, but the broader market seemed to shrug off the news pretty well. Stocks also managed to shrug off what ended up being a fairly substantial rise in US government bond yields; 10-year yields finished the session up 5bps and back above the 1.70% mark. To be fair, there was a somewhat defensive bias to equities, with utilities (+1.1%) and consumer staples (+1.0%) the best two performing sectors on the session.

Market commentator touted anticipation of the Biden administration’s next infrastructure-focused stimulus plan as pushing yields higher and helping keep the stock market supported. Note that just last week, the very same market commentators were arguing that talk about tax hikes being needed to fund infrastructure stimulus was a stock market negative.

US President Joe Biden will unveil plans for the infrastructure bill on Wednesday. A report by the Washington Post said that the initial draft for the proposal will involve $3T in spending and $1T in tax hikes, but others expect the White House to push for a $4T spending package combined with $3.5T in tax hikes. Separate reports suggest the Biden administration will split the infrastructure package into two halves, the first, which will be announced this Wednesday, to be focused on transportation. Reports also suggest Biden may announce action on student debt this week as well.

Elsewhere, there are growing concerns in the US about the recent rise in Covid-19 cases; President Biden called for states to pause their re-opening efforts and urged for caution given the risk the country could still face a setback in its vaccine rollout. Leading US Centre for Disease Control officials argued a similar point. Negative commentary on reopening from government officials may well have been to blame for the underperformance in small-cap stocks, which are more closely correlated to reopening optimism than the larger cap indices.