Biden’s big Super Tuesday helps the markets get over that nasty virus (for now)

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Good evening, Bull Sheeters. This is Fortune finance reporter Rey Mashayekhi, filling in this week for Bernhard Warner. We’re trying something new: To keep you informed on the latest developments in the Asian and U.S. markets, I’ll be sending you a special evening (or, for those of you reading this in Asia, morning) edition of the newsletter. We’ll be back to regular scheduling next week.

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Well, it’s no secret that many in the finance world are skeptical, to say the least, of what a Bernie Sanders presidency would mean for business. But even the most ardent Bernie cynic must have been surprised at how the U.S. markets reacted to Joe Biden’s sweeping success on Super Tuesday.

Markets update

In Asia, Tokyo’s Nikkei was up marginally, while the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s decision to follow central banks around the world and cut its interest rate by 50 basis points didn’t do much for the Hang Seng, which ended down only slightly after losing 300 points earlier in the day.

On mainland China, the markets shrugged off more negative economic data—this time in the form of the Caixin/Markit services PMI, which dropped into contraction territory in February. Shanghai’s SSE Composite ticked up more than half a percent, while Shenzhen’s composite and component indices both registered slight gains.

In Europe, investors took well to the European Central Bank’s indication that it would follow the Federal Reserve and slash already-negative interest rates further if necessary. London’s FTSE, Frankfurt’s DAX, Paris’s CAC 40, and the pan-European STOXX 600 all climbed more than 1%

But the global markets’ performance on Wednesday paled in comparison to what went on in New York. There’s still some way left to go, but Joe Biden appears to have put himself in pole position to secure the Democratic nomination for President of the United States by winning 10 of the 14 states up for grabs in the Super Tuesday primaries. And it appears it was enough to make investors forget (for the time being) about the coronavirus outbreak that continues to spread around the world.

While the Fed’s emergency interest rate cut couldn’t stop the Dow Jones Industrial Average from plunging nearly 800 points Tuesday, the Dow recovered those losses (and then some) on Wednesday—ending the day up nearly 1,200 points, or 4.5%. Likewise, the Nasdaq Composite and S&P 500 each registered gains around 4%.

The fact that Congress is poised to pass an $8 billion spending package to combat the coronavirus outbreak may have given the markets some confidence, but it’s hard to look past Biden’s impressive performance—and the degree to which it may have assuaged fears of what a Sanders presidency could mean for corporate America.

One only has to look at how health care stocks fared on Wednesday to get an idea of how unpopular some of Sanders’ policies—namely, his controversial Medicare for All proposal—are with segments of the market. Having lagged behind the broader market’s run-up through 2019 amid talk on the campaign trail of a comprehensive, government-run overhaul of the American health care system, Wednesday saw the S&P 500’s health care sector outperform the other 10 industry sectors tracked by the index and climb 5.8% on the day.

UnitedHealth Group, America’s largest health care provider, saw its shares jump nearly 11%, while fellow private health insurers Anthem (16%), Centene (16%), Humana (14%), and Cigna (11%) also posted big double-digit gains.

Elsewhere, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note ticked up slightly—but not before briefly dipping below 1% again on Wednesday—while gold was flat to down. On the crude oil front, the WTI notched up while Brent crude was down, and the U.S. dollar rose.

Up big on Monday, down nearly as much on Tuesday, and back up again on Wednesday—it’s enough to give investors whiplash. For now, have a pleasant evening and see you again tomorrow.

Rey Mashayekhi

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