The S&P 500 index gained 87 points, or 2.5%, reaching an all-time high on Nov. 9. Today's big move higher came after it was reported that the COVID-19 vaccine candidate from Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX -0.91%) is showing over 90% effectiveness, and on track to gain emergency-use authorization pending additional safety data in the next several weeks.
The news, along with every major independent news outlet declaring former Vice President Joe Biden would win the U.S. presidential election, had investors piling aggressively into many stocks today. Some of 2020's worst-performing stocks were today's biggest gainers. Office REIT SL Green Realty (SLG -2.59%) and retail REIT Regency Centers (REG 0.23%) closed up 37% and 35%, respectively, while cruise line Carnival (CCL 5.52%) shares surged 39% and oil producer Diamondback Energy (FANG 0.75%) moved up 31%. Even after today's big gains, all four are still down between 46% and 73% year to date.
Surprising stats: Laggards leading the way
These laggards at the very top aren't the exception today; they were rule: All 100 of today's best S&P 500 stocks gained at least 11%, but they are still down year to date. Moreover, at least 95 of today's biggest gainers are still down more than 10% so far this year.
Simply put, investors rushed into the industries that have borne the brunt of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, including real estate (particularly retail and office space), travel and hospitality, and oil and gas.
The energy sector in particular had a huge day. Oil prices surged more than 7%, moving both West Texas Intermediate and Brent Crude futures above $40 per barrel on the prospects of a global recovery in travel and economic activity more quickly than investors were betting on only last week. As a result, the Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE 1.24%), which tracks S&P 500 energy sector stocks, gained almost 16% today. Oil giants ExxonMobil (XOM 1.16%) and Chevron (CVX 1.02%) gained 14% and 13%, respectively.
2020's best stocks sold off
On the red end of today's ledger, some of the year's best-performing stocks fell sharply, particularly e-commerce and "work-from-home" stocks. Shares of Amazon (AMZN 1.82%) fell 5%, Etsy (ETSY 1.16%) shares fell 17%, and Best Buy (BBY 0.32%) lost 10%. So far this year, Amazon shares are up 79%, while Etsy and Best Buy shares are up 230% and 40%, respectively.
Of today's 100 worst-performing S&P 500 stocks, 94 are still up so far this year, and the vast majority are still up by double digits.
What should investors make of today's moves?
In short, today was a great day for the market as a whole, but a lot of this year's biggest winners fell sharply as investors turn their attention to the laggards.
On one hand, this makes sense: Commercial real estate, energy, and the travel and hospitality industries have much to gain after a brutal 2020. A successful vaccine is needed to finally move out of the pandemic, and return to normal. But with that said, it is still going to be many months before a vaccine is widely available. Pfizer/BioNTech says it can produce 50 million doses by the end of December, but that's only enough to treat only 25 million people (it's a two-dose vaccine).
The takeaway: Today's news is an absolute positive in the fight to beat COVID-19. But the trajectory for a return to normal wasn't really changed very much, and it's still likely to be well into 2021 before enough vaccines have been produced -- and likely by multiple pharmaceutical companies -- and administered around the world to end this pandemic.
Investors have plenty to be happy about today. But don't expect things to return to normal quickly; they won't. That likely means some of today's worst-performing stocks will continue to be best-performing businesses for the rest of 2020, and most of 2021 and beyond. Conversely, some of today's biggest gainers still face very tough prospects, and investors betting today on a quick recovery could find out the hard way they jumped in too quickly.