After rallying more than 32 per cent from a multi-year low hit in March, the S&P 500 had been trading in a tight range in May as investors weighed the hopes of an economic recovery against the fears of another wave of infection as states lifted virus-led restrictions.
“The fact that Moderna came out with the Phase 1 trial that seems to be positive, that certainly is igniting the storm,” said Ken Polcari, chief market strategist at SlateStone Wealth in Florida. “That will ignite the storm because if there is a vaccine then all this uncertainty about the economy and the virus goes away.”
Stocks that have been particularly battered by government lockdown measures implemented to stem the spread of the coronavirus surged on Monday.
Travel-related stocks were among the biggest gainers, with cruise line operators Carnival, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line all outperforming the broader market with gains of at least 15 per cent.
Airline stocks also soared as Delta Air Lines said it would resume flying several major routes in June. The NYSE Arca index gained 14.14 per cent, with Delta up 13.91 per cent.
The benchmark S&P 500 notched its biggest one-day percentage gain since April 8, with all 11 major S&P sectors higher.
Markets also took heart from comments by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell over the weekend forecasting a gradual economic recovery and his affirmation that more monetary stimulus would be on the way if required. Powell is set to speak before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday to discuss how economic rescue efforts are working.
Cyclical plays were in favour with the energy and industrial sectors climbing as a gradual recovery in economic activity pointed to more demand for oil and manufactured products.
Still, stocks that are poised to benefit the most from a restart of the economy continue to lag those whose businesses have weathered the restrictions or even grown as a result of the lockdowns. The S&P 500 growth index has outperformed the S&P value index by about 4 percentage points this month.
General Motors and Ford both surged, closing up 9.63 per cent and 8.37 per cent, respectively, as the two automakers started to reopen their North American factories in a push to restart work in an industry that accounts for about 6 per cent of US economic activity and employs nearly 1 million people in the United States.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 7.12-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 4.43-to-1 ratio favoured advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 22 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 88 new highs and seven new lows.
Volume on US exchanges was 12.63 billion shares, compared to the 11.4 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.