Wobbly day on Wall Street ends with stock indexes hitting new highs

The market bounced back from a late-afternoon slide that coincided with a published report that highlighted snags in the ongoing U.S.-China trade negotiations.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Wall Street capped a wobbly day for stocks with another record-setting finish Wednesday.

The Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 index each eked out a modest gain that was good enough to nudge both to record highs. The Nasdaq composite index closed just below its all-time high set a day earlier.

The latest milestones came after the market bounced back from a late-afternoon slide that coincided with a published report that highlighted snags in the ongoing U.S.-China trade negotiations.

Stocks spent much of the morning with slight gains after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell told a congressional panel that the central bank is likely to hold off on cutting interest rates again, citing optimism about the U.S. economy.


Investors’ optimism that Washington and Beijing are nearing a stopgap trade deal and Fed interest rate cuts have helped lift the market in recent weeks. Surprisingly good corporate earnings and data showing the economy is still growing solidly have also put investors in a buying mood.

On Wednesday, much of the buying involved safe-play stocks such as utilities, real estate companies and makers of consumer products that tend to pay higher dividends. Those sectors outweighed losses in banks, industrial stocks and companies that rely on consumer spending. Demand for bonds also increased, sending bond yields lower.

“It’s a safe-haven kind of approach, but it has more to do with a focus on income,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA. Investors “are willing to go into these different areas of the market because the economy is strong enough to sustain those dividends.”

The S&P 500 rose 2.20 points, or less than 0.1%, to 3,094.04. The benchmark index edged past its last record close, set Friday. The Dow gained 92.10 points, or 0.3%, to 27,783.59. The Nasdaq dropped 3.99 points, or less than 0.1%, to 8,482.10.


Treasury yields continued to fall as demand for bonds increased, driving their prices higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.89% from 1.91% late Friday. It was below 1.50% in early September and has been rallying with confidence in the economy’s strength.

Stocks got off to a sluggish start Wednesday as investors awaited the remarks from Powell, who kicked off two days of testimony before congressional panels. They perked up after the Fed chairman said that the central bank is unlikely to cut rates unless the economy slows enough to cause Fed policymakers to make a “material reassessment” of their outlook.

“Most people going in pretty much assumed that the Fed is now on hold,” Stovall said. “Investors were encouraged that Chairman Powell did not say anything totally out of what was expected.”

ADT was among the stocks that helped drive the market higher Wednesday. The home and business security company climbed 8.2% after its latest quarterly results topped Wall Street’s expectations. The company also announced a special dividend.


Energizer Holdings jumped 15.2% after the battery and personal care products maker’s latest quarterly results handily beat Wall Street’s forecasts.

Benchmark crude oil rose 32 cents to $57.12 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, gained 31 cents to $62.37 a barrel.

Gold rose $9.60 to $1,461.70 an ounce and silver rose 22 cents to $16.90 an ounce.

The dollar fell to 108.79 Japanese yen from 108.94 yen Tuesday. The euro weakened to $1.1002 from $1.1011.