US stocks edged higher at midday on Wednesday as concern over new shutdowns because of the surging COVID-19 pandemic were overshadowed by progress in the hunt for a vaccine.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 52 points, or 0.18%, to 29,835. The S&P 500 was up 7 points, or 0.20% to 3,616, and the Nasdaq Composite added 36 points, or 0.31%, to 11,935.
At current levels, the Dow and the S&P are holding close to the record highs struck on Monday while the Nasdaq stayed not too far from the September record as a working vaccine to fight the coronavirus comes closer.
Still, the threat of fresh shutdowns is weighing on the broader markets as the Johns Hopkins University tracking website showed US cases have crossed 11 million, followed by almost 9 million in India and 6 million in Brazil.
On Wednesday, Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX) updated the efficacy of their coronavirus vaccine candidate to 95% from 90%, with all endpoints met in a final 3 trial. They plan to submit a request within days to the US drug regulator for an Emergency Use Authorization. Pfizer gained almost 2% while BioNTech added more than 4%.
Moderna (MRNA), which reported a 94.5% effectiveness in its vaccine earlier this week based on interim data, was almost 4% lower. Shares of other vaccine makers were also weaker, including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), AstraZeneca (AZN) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Meanwhile, Boeing (BA) gained about 1% after it secured US approval to fly its 737 MAX jet again after the aircraft was grounded following two fatal crashes.
The MAX approval and the vaccine news lifted US airline stocks, with United Airlines (UAL), American Airlines (AAL), Delta (DAL) and Southwest Airlines (LUV) up between 3% and 5%.
On the energy front, oil prices gained as vaccine news more than offset a weekly build in US crude stockpiles, with US West Texas Intermediate crude up 1.6% to $42.09 per barrel and Brent crude up 2.1% to $44.67. Natural gas price gained 2.2% to $2.75 per 1 million BTU. Oil majors were mixed, with Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) shares weaker while ConocoPhillips (COP) rose.
Among the gainers, Socket Mobile (SCKT) surged 20% after it secured Google Wallet certification for SocketScan S550 contactless reader. Kodiak Sciences (KOD) rose 23% after pricing its $561 million share offering at $108 per share, compared with its Tuesday's closing price of $114.24. Vaalco Energy (EGY) soared 20% after it struck a deal to acquire Sasol's (SSL) 27.8% working interest in the Etame Marin block in offshore Gabon.
On the losing side, Oncternal Therapeutics (ONCT) slumped 30% after the company raised the size of its stock offering to $22.5 million from $20 million. CBAK Energy Technology (CBAT) dropped 20% after a creditor exchanged RMB72 million ($11.17 million) debt into 3.19 million CBAK shares at an exchange price of $3.50 each. Polaris Industries (PII) fell 4% after the powersports firm reaffirmed its full year guidance as its CEO will leave the firm to take on the CEO role at CNH Industrial (CNHI).
In the precious metals markets, gold was 0.3% softer to $1,879.40 an ounce, and silver edged down 0.2% to $24.62 an ounce.
Among energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund rose 1.1% to $29.20 and the United States Natural Gas Fund gained 0.9% to $10.39. Among precious-metal funds, the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF fell 0.8% to $36.70 and SPDR Gold Shares added 0.1% to $176.58. The iShares Silver Trust advanced 0.7% to $22.91.