Stock indexes wobble as investor caution offsets optimism
Another day of choppy trading on Wall Street left the major U.S. stock indexes nearly flat Thursday, even as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and Nasdaq composite hit all-time highs.
The S&P 500 rose 0.2% after wobbling between small gains and losses up until the final minutes of trading. Technology stocks led the gainers after two relatively weak days, almost single-handedly outweighing losses by energy stocks, banks and companies that rely on consumer spending.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose to 1.16% from 1.15% late Wednesday after being as high as 1.20% earlier this week.
Wall Street continued to digest solid corporate earnings and updates on a decline in new virus cases. The latest government report on jobless claims, though, reaffirmed that employment remains a weak spot in the economy as vaccine distribution ramps up.
Although the number of unemployment claims fell slightly, it remains well above historical levels.
The S&P 500 rose 6.50 points to 3,916.38, eclipsing the index’s last record high set Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 7.10 points, or less than 0.1%, to 31,430.70 a day after setting a new record high. The tech-heavy Nasdaq gained 53.24 points, or 0.4%, to 14,025.77. Its previous all-time high was set Tuesday.
Small-company stocks, which have been strong gainers on hopes for an economic recovery by the second half of this year, notched gains. The Russell 2000 index added 2.88 points, or 0.1%, to 2,285.32. The index is up 15.7% this year, while the S&P 500 is up 4.3%.
The action has been mostly muted on Wall Street this week after a string of record highs for the major stock indexes. Investors are still looking for more government aid to help bolster the struggling economy as vaccine distribution progresses and the number of new virus cases continues falling. Democrats in Congress are working on a potential $1.9-trillion relief package that would include direct payments to people and more jobless aid as unemployment remains stubbornly high.
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to 793,000. The job market had shown tentative improvement last summer but slowed through the fall and in the last two months. Nearly 10 million jobs still remain lost to the pandemic.
Companies continued reporting mostly solid earnings Thursday, adding to a surprisingly good earnings season. Kraft Heinz climbed 4.9% and Zillow Group jumped 17.8% after beating Wall Street’s fourth-quarter profit forecasts.
The pandemic and business shutdowns are still hurting many companies and crimping their financial results. Molson Coors fell 9.1% for the biggest decline in the S&P 500 after its profit fell short of expectations because business shutdowns in Europe hurt sales.
Elsewhere in the market, shares of online dating service operator Bumble soared 63.5% on their first day of trading. And cannabis stocks fell broadly a day after surging amid a buying spree fueled partly by members of the same online forum that hyped GameStop and other beaten-down companies in recent weeks.
Aphria and Tilray, Canadian cannabis companies that agreed to combine in December, fell 35.8% and 49.7%, respectively. This year, Aphria has more than doubled, while Tilray has nearly quadrupled in value. Sundial Growers fared better, recovering from an early slide to gain 3.1%. Its price has increased more than sixfold this year.
Shares of Mastercard rose 2.6% after the payment processing company said it would start integrating cybercurrencies into its payment network, allowing people to potentially transfer cryptocurrencies like bitcoin from customer to merchant. Bitcoin also rose on the announcement, gaining more than 4%, according to the online currency brokerage Coinbase.
President Biden held his first conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Although there wasn’t any indication of a major change in U.S. trade policy, businesses are hoping for a less combative approach to trade policy between the world’s two biggest economies than during the Trump administration. Technology companies were among those hit hardest by tough trade policies during the previous administration.
Many markets in Asia were closed for the Lunar New Year and other holidays. Markets in Europe ended mixed.
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