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Stock market climbs after big retailers post solid earnings

New York Stock Exchange
The facade of the New York Stock Exchange.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Strong earnings reports from several big retailers helped drive stocks on Wall Street broadly higher Wednesday as the market bounced back from its first loss in four days.

Target shares notched their biggest-ever gain and Lowe’s had its best day in more than a year, leading a broad rally in companies that rely on consumer spending. Nordstrom, Kohl’s, Gap and other retailers gained ground.

Technology companies accounted for a big share of the gains. Financial stocks rose as bond prices fell, pushing yields higher. Real estate and materials stocks lagged behind the overall market.

Investors have been worried that U.S. economic and corporate earnings growth could stumble under the strain of a slowing global economy and the U.S.-China trade war. But the strong quarterly results from the retailers encouraged traders — who see the performance as a sign that U.S. consumers, which account for 70% of U.S. economic growth — are healthy.

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“We had a couple of great earnings reports this morning, especially Target, which is a good barometer of the consumer,” said Dan Heckman, national investment consultant at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “The consumer still appears to be spending and doing well.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 23.92 points, or 0.8%, to 2,924.43. The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 240.29 points, or 0.9%, to 26,202.73. The Nasdaq advanced 71.65 points, or 0.9%, to 8,020.21. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 11.84 points, or 0.8%, to 1,509.85.

The stock market has been volatile this month as investors try to parse conflicting signals on the U.S. economy and determine whether a recession is on the way. A key concern is that the U.S.-China trade war will weigh on global economic growth.

A look at Target and Lowe’s earnings Wednesday appeared to dim investors’ concerns about the effects tariffs on Chinese goods may have on U.S. consumers.

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Target soared 20.4% after the company easily beat profit forecasts for its second quarter. Target has been pushing faster delivery and investing heavily in new private label brands.

Lowe’s jumped 10.4% after the home improvement retailer’s latest quarterly results blew past expectations, buoyed by strong demand for spring goods and sales to contractors. The company’s strong quarter came even as it wrestled with lower lumber prices and rough spring weather.

Lowe’s solid earnings came the day after rival Home Depot reported strong results of its own. Home Depot rose 1.6%.

Investors took a dim view of Cree’s latest quarterly results. Shares in the maker of energy-efficient lighting tumbled 15.8% after it issued a weak forecast as it deals with the fallout from the U.S.-China trade war.

Encouraging housing market data sent homebuilders higher. The National Assn. of Realtors said sales of previously occupied U.S. homes rose 2.5% last month. The increase is a sign that lower mortgage rates are helping to increase sales, which have been sluggish amid rising housing prices and a stubborn shortage of homes on the market. Hovnanian Enterprises shares leaped 18.5%. LGI Homes rose 2.8%.

Traders had a muted reaction to the afternoon release of notes from the Federal Reserve’s July policymaking meeting last month. The minutes showed officials were divided in their decision to cut interest rates for the first time in a decade.

Investors have been seeking insight into the Fed’s willingness to make further interest-rate cuts to help shore up the economy. They are now looking ahead to Friday, when Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is scheduled to speak at the central bank’s annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Although earnings news put investors in a buying mood Wednesday, Heckman noted that August and September are historically some of the weakest months of the year for stocks, so investors should expect more market volatility, particularly if the U.S. and China don’t strike a trade deal.

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Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.59% from 1.56%; it briefly dropped below the two-year Treasury’s yield for the first time in a week. This inversion of the U.S. yield curve has heralded the last five recessions.

Crude oil fell 45 cents to $55.68 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 27 cents to $60.30 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.69 a gallon. Heating oil climbed 1 cent to $1.86 a gallon. Natural gas fell 5 cents to $2.17 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold was unchanged at $1,504.60 an ounce. Silver rose 1 cent to $17.13 an ounce. Copper rose 1 cent to $2.58 a pound.


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