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  • The S&P 500 rallied over 1.0% on the session to top 4K for the first time.
  • Tech stocks led the rally, boosted as long-term US government borrowing costs dropped sharply.
  • A strong ISM Manufacturing PMI survey likely helped boost risk appetite.

US equity markets surged on the final trading day of the week (US stock exchanges are closed on Friday for the Good Friday public holiday), with the S&P 500 surpassing the 4000 level for the first time and closing at 4020, up 1.2% or nearly 50 points on the session. Tech stocks lead the way, with the S&P 500 information technology sector gaining 2.1%, driven by a 2.9% gain in Microsoft and a surge in semiconductors (the SOX semiconductor index rose 3.7%).

As a result, the Nasdaq 100 was the best performing of the major indices, gaining 1.8%. Meanwhile, the Dow rallied 0.5%, the Russell 2K gained 1.4% and the CBOE volatility index fell sharply below its 19.00 floor that had acted as support for most of March, dropping more than 2.0 vols on the session to 17.3.

Back to the sectoral performance, the S&P 500 communications services sector also did very well on Thursday, rallying over 2.0% amid more than 3.0% rallies in Google and Netflix and a 2.4% bid in Disney. Tech stocks were supported on Thursday by a sharp drop in US government bond yields, to which they are strongly inversely correlated; US 10-year bonds dropped roughly 7bps on the day to under 1.68%, with the fall in 30-year yields even sharper.

Lower yields supported the real estate sector, which gained 1.6%, but did not seem to hurt financials too badly, which gained 1.3%. The classically more defensive sectors utilities, health care and consumer staples underperformed, each dropping about 0.2% on the day.

Driving the day

The latest ISM Manufacturing PMI survey showed manufacturing activity soaring at its strongest pace in more than 37 years in March and showed the pace of employment gains in factories at its highest since February 2018, a positive signal ahead of Friday’s official jobs report for March. The headline index came in at 64.7 versus consensus forecasts for a rise to 61.3 in March from 60.8 in February. In terms of the subindices, New Orders rose to 68.0 from 64.8 in February, Employment rose to 59.6 from 54.4 (above the expected 53.0) and Prices dropped ever so slightly to 85.6 from 86.0 (a little above the expected 85.0). On a more negative note, the report did note significant disruption as a result of supply shortages, delays and supply chain disruptions.

The aforementioned strong data appeared to instill confidence in the equity investors and help build the foundation for the eventual push above 4K in the S&P 500. Equity market participants shrugged off a weaker than expected weekly jobless claims report. Other market participants cited the afterglow of US President Joe Biden’s American “jobs” plan announcement, which will involve $2T in spending over the next eight years, as a residual positive.

“We’re still bullish for this year”, commented King Lip, chief investment strategist at Baker Avenue Asset Management, before continuing that, “we think that with stimulus, with the Fed committed to being dovish, with the economy reopening due to more of the US getting vaccinated, overall you’re going see corporate earnings do pretty well”.

Looking ahead, as noted above, US equity markets are closed on Friday. However, despite the public holiday, the Bureau of Labour Statistics is still going to release the latest jobs report. When futures reopen at the start of next Monday’s Asia Pacific session, things could be choppy. The main events in the US next week will be the ISM Services PMI survey for the month of March on Tuesday and the release of the minutes of the March FOMC meeting on Wednesday.