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Stocks Finish Higher on Tech Strength; Airlines Drop After Buffett Bails

Stocks finish higher as tech stocks gain even as tensions between the United States and China over the origin of the coronavirus renew fears of a trade war.

Stocks finished modestly higher Monday as a strong showing by big tech stocks outweighed growing tensions between the United States and China over the origin of the coronavirus just as countries around the world began reopening their economies..

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 26 points, or 0.11%, to 23,749, the S&P 500 rose 0.42% and the Nasdaq advanced 1.23%, as shares in Tesla  (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc. Report and Advanced Micro Devices  (AMD) - Get Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Report posted solid gains.

Criticized for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, which has claimed nearly 70,000 American lives, President Donald Trump again raised the idea of reprisals against China for its lack of transparency during the early stages of the outbreak.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said over the weekend there was "enormous evidence" that the coronavirus, which causes Covid-19, had emerged from a virology lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The claims come despite skepticism in the intelligence and scientific communities.

Worries that the U.S. economy was reopening too quickly -- even as infections continue rising in some areas and health experts warn of a potential second wave of infections without widespread availability of testing -- curbed some investors' optimism. 

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Pressure to reopen the economy only grew stronger after last week's report that more than 30 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits over the past six weeks as the coronavirus outbreak forced businesses to shut and slash their workforces.

"The biggest risk to the stock market is a premature reopening of the U.S. economy," said Marc Chaikin, founder of quantitative investment research firm Chaikin Analytics. "If rising Covid-19 curves reemerge and economies are shut down again the damage to the stock market’s psyche will be dramatic."

Airline stocks fell sharply Monday after Warren Buffett disclosed that his investment firm, Berkshire Hathaway undefined, dumped its entire stake in the country's four largest airline stocks - American Airlines  (AAL) - Get American Airlines Group Inc. Report, Delta Air Lines  (DAL) - Get Delta Air Lines Inc. Report, United Airlines  (UAL) - Get United Airlines Holdings Inc. Report and Southwest Airlines  (LUV) - Get Southwest Airlines Company Report.

The airline industry has been one of the hardest hit during the coronavirus pandemic.

Buffett said the nearly $8 billion he invested in the airlines had been a "mistake," telling investors at Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting  that the airline business has "changed in a very major way" that will leave carriers more indebted and with fewer commercial passengers and "too many planes." 

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