Mnuchin says Trump told him ‘keep at this’ on effort for coronavirus aid deal

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Wednesday that President Donald Trump had told him to keep negotiating with Democrats to try to get a fresh coronavirus relief package.

“The president has said to me, keep at this until you get this done,” Mnuchin said on Fox Business network. He said a deal could be reached quickly if House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi compromises. “If we don’t get it now, when the president wins the election we’ll get it passed quickly afterwards.”

Wall Street finished weaker on Wednesday, led lower by Amazon and Microsoft, as investors lost hope that a U.S. fiscal stimulus would be approved before the presidential election in November.

Downbeat comments from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that a deal would not likely be made before the vote added to fragile sentiment following a mixed bag of quarterly earnings reports from major Wall Street lenders.

“At this point getting something done before the election and executing on that would be difficult, just given where we are and the level of detail, but we’re going to try to continue to work through these issues,” Mnuchin said at a conference sponsored by the Milken Institute.

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U.S. stocks had rallied in recent sessions on optimism that the government would provide a fresh stimulus to reduce damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Optimism took hold like a rocket last week and now it’s coming back down to earth a little bit,” said Mike Zigmont, head of trading and research at Harvest Volatility Management in New York. “I think a stimulus as a large macro event is already baked into stock prices. It’s just a question of when the details emerge and when the stimulus goes into effect.”

Third-quarter earnings season is getting underway, with signs of overall improvement in expectations of how badly U.S. companies have been hurt by the pandemic. Analysts expect earnings to fall 19% from a year earlier, according to Refinitiv IBES data, versus a 25% drop forecast on July 1.

Markets have also begun to digest the prospect of a Democratic victory, strategists and fund managers said.

While many investors view Democratic cadidate Joe Biden as more likely to raise taxes, they are increasingly pointing to potential benefits of a Biden presidency, such as greater infrastructure spending and less global trade uncertainty.

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UnitedHealth Group Inc dropped 2.9%, despite raising its profit forecast, as the U.S. insurer said it was difficult to predict the fallout of the pandemic on earnings.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.51-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.95-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 23 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 109 new highs and 14 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 8.2 billion shares, compared with the 9.6 billion average over the last 20 trading days.