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Stocks End Higher After $2.3 Trillion Fed Plan, Falling Oil Prices and Soaring Jobless Claims

Stocks ended higher as investors reacted to the Fed's plan to pump more than $2.3 trillion into the U.S. economy, to soaring jobless claims, and to a late-in-the-session report that Saudi Arabia and Russia had agreed on oil-production cuts.

Stocks finished higher Thursday as investors reacted to the Federal Reserve's plan to pump more than $2.3 trillion into the U.S. economy, to weekly jobless claims soaring to 6.6 million due to the coronavirus pandemic, and to a late report that Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed in principle to settle an oil-production dispute.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 285 points, or 1.22%, to 23,719 as Wall Street heads into a three-day Easter break. The S&P 500 gained 1.45% and the Nasdaq was up 0.77%. 

For the week, the S&P 500 was up 11.9%, the Dow rose more than 12% and the Nasdaq climbed 10%.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia and Russia had agreed on oil-production cuts, settling a month-long dispute. Saudi Arabia will cut its daily output to 8.7 million barrels a day from 12 million, and Russia will pare its output to 8.4 million from 10.4 million, the Journal reported.

The Fed said it would use $75 billion in Treasury capital to purchase up to $600 billion in small-business loans, and lend around $500 billion to states and cities around the country. 

The four-year loans will focus on companies with 10,000 employees or less, the central bank said, and will complement the Fed's previous announcement of its intention to purchase municipal bonds.

"Our country's highest priority must be to address this public health crisis, providing care for the ill and limiting the further spread of the virus," said Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. "The Fed's role is to provide as much relief and stability as we can during this period of constrained economic activity, and our actions (Thursday) will help ensure that the eventual recovery is as vigorous as possible." 

In a separate webinar hosted by the Brookings Institution, Powell said there was "every reason to believe that the economic rebound, when it comes, can be robust” once the economy recovers from the shutdowns implemented to control the pandemic.

More than 15 million Americans, meanwhile, now have filed for unemployment benefits in the past three weeks, with some 6.6 million million registering for benefits in the past seven days alone as unprecedented measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak by shutting down the economy continued to take their toll on the jobs market.

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"The Fed’s $2.3 trillion support program is seemingly overshadowing yet another devastating blow to the labor market," said Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy at E*Trade. 

"While the market has had better performance in the past few days than the past few weeks, a rally doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods just yet nor that volatility is a thing of the past. If there is one thing recent history has shown us, it’s that optimism can wear off quickly if cases climb or stay-at-home orders are extended. 

"Regardless of short-term market moves that no doubt can be unsettling to investors, especially as the uncertainty of the pandemic continues to hang heavily on hearts and minds, stay focused on the financial goals you’ve been planning for and keep your eyes on the long-term," he added.

Stocks finished sharply higher Wednesday as Wall Street weighed a leveling off of coronavirus infections in certain hot spots and efforts by the Trump administration to restart the U.S. economy. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked by TheStreet's Jim Cramer on CNBC about whether he thinks the U.S. economy could be back in business during May, he said, "I do, Jim."

The number of confirmed global cases of the coronavirus has risen to 1,536,979, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and deaths increased to 93,425.

The U.S. has 451,491 cases of the coronavirus, the most in the world, according to Johns Hopkins CSSE. Deaths in the U.S. have risen to 16,231.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said coronavirus deaths across the state hit a third-straight daily record with 799 fatalities on Wednesday. 

Although the number of deaths is climbing, Cuomo said, the rate of new cases is starting to level off. New York State has the worst coronavirus outbreak in the country and the new spike in deaths has pushed the total statewide toll over 7,000.