Stock Markets Jump on COVID-19 Hopes; Travel Stocks Soar

The stock market began the new week on a sharply positive note. Market participants appeared to be excited about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's decision to issue an emergency authorization for the use of antibody-containing plasma for treating COVID-19 patients. That gave investors new optimism that the global economy will be able to move forward without any further interference from the coronavirus pandemic. Gains were largest for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI), but the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC) and Nasdaq Composite were able to advance to new record highs.

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If there's one industry that's gotten hit the hardest by the pandemic, it's travel. It's therefore not surprising to see the travel industry rally sharply on any news that suggests an end might be in sight for the worst of the coronavirus crisis. The big question that remains, though, is whether travel stocks are getting ahead of themselves.

A big bounce across the board

Just about every segment of the travel industry did well on Monday. The impact of a full recovery would be different for various subsectors, roughly in proportion to the amount they've gotten hit.

Cruise ship operators saw substantial gains, as they've arguably taken the worst of the crisis. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NYSE: NCLH) climbed more than 10%, while Carnival (NYSE: CCL) came in with a 7% gain. Royal Caribbean Cruises (NYSE: RCL) finished the day up almost 5%.

Cruise ship in an inlet, with a beach and a small island nearby.

Image source: Getty Images.

It's not immediately apparent whether the news of a potential treatment for COVID-19 would actually help the cruise lines immediately. Cruise operators haven't actually been suffering a loss of confidence among customers, who've actually been impatient to get back to sea. Instead, satisfying regulators about the safety of cruises going forward has been the biggest sticking point. No-sail orders have continued beyond their original durations, and it's still not clear whether the companies operating cruises have come up with coronavirus mitigation plans that will satisfy the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and similar regulators overseas.

Airlines fly higher

Elsewhere, airline stocks also performed well. American Airlines Group (NASDAQ: AAL) and United Airlines Holdings (NASDAQ: UAL) were the best performers, climbing 11% and 10%, respectively. Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) gained 9% on the day, while Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) advanced more than 6%.

In general, U.S. carriers with extensive international schedules fared better than carriers that fly solely within the U.S., in large part because the continuing impact of COVID-19 on international travel depends much more on finding a viable treatment. With travel between the U.S. and most other countries being limited, it'll take a proven vaccine or treatment to convince many nations to open their doors to American travelers.

Also, unlike cruise ships, airplanes are flying people even under the threat of COVID-19. Hope for a viable treatment could make more travelers willing to fly, further boosting the prospects for carriers. In that sense, today's news could be more helpful for airline stocks than for cruise company shareholders.

Nevertheless, we're still a long way from having any candidate vaccine or treatment make its way fully through the regulatory process. Investors are being optimistic here, but a reversal is possible if things don't go as well as hoped.

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Dan Caplinger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Carnival, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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