Stocks rise on Wall Street, but US braces for 100,000 deaths

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In this photo provided by the New York Stock Exchange, trader Aman Patel wears a protective face mask as he works on the partially reopened trading floor, Tuesday, May 26, 2020. Stocks surged on Wall Street in afternoon trading Tuesday, driving the S&P 500 to its highest level in nearly three months, as hopes for economic recovery overshadow worries about the coronavirus pandemic. (Colin Zimmer/New York Stock Exchange via AP)

BANGKOK – Stocks surged on Wall Street to their highest levels since the business shutdowns took hold in the U.S. over two months ago, climbing on optimism Tuesday about the reopening economy even as the nation's official death toll from the coronavirus closed in on 100,000, a number President Donald Trump once predicted the country would never see.

With infections mounting rapidly in places like Brazil and India, a top global health official warned that the crisis is far from over.

In a largely symbolic move, the New York Stock Exchange trading floor in Manhattan reopened for the first time in two months, with plexiglass barriers, masks and a reduced number of traders to adhere to 6-foot (2-meter) social distancing rules. Those entering the NYSE will have their temperatures taken and were asked to avoid public transportation.

The S&P 500 closed 1.2% higher, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained nearly 530 points, or 2.2%. Markets worldwide also rose.

“These little baby steps that we start to see different states reopening, different policies that are being allowed that weren’t allowed two weeks ago — these are all clear signals that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner at Meridian Equity Partners.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has presided over the state with the highest death toll from the scourge, rang the bell to set off trading at the NYSE.

Several thousand brokers and others used to crowd the trading floor as recently as the 1990s. But in the years since, the rise of electronic trading from computer terminals grew to dominate the action on Wall Street. These days, there are about 500 floor traders at the NYSE.

The rally took place as the government reported that U.S. consumer confidence inched up this month, showing signs of stabilizing. Still, it remains near a six-year low in the face of the widespread business shutdowns that have sent the economy into recession and driven unemployment to levels last seen during the Great Depression.