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Stocks set new records, lifted by tech and communications sectors

New York Stock Exchange
The latest batch of positive corporate earnings reports and economic data helped keep investors in a buying mood.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Wall Street capped a record-setting week Friday with a few more records: Modest gains nudged the major U.S. stock indexes to new all-time highs.

Technology firms powered much of the market’s broad gains, along with communication services companies and banks. The energy sector was the only decliner. Bond prices fell, sending yields up.

Investors welcomed more strong quarterly results from banks. A report showing a December surge in new-home construction provided the latest encouraging snapshot on the U.S. economy. A solid retail sales report out Thursday revealed consumers are still spending at a healthy pace.

The latest batch of positive corporate earnings reports and economic data helped keep investors in a buying mood after the midweek signing of an initial U.S.-China trade deal. Progress on trade has eased fears on Wall Street about the potential for the dispute to escalate further.

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“The markets have responded really to one thing, and that’s trade headlines, and that continues,” said Nela Richardson, investment strategist at Edward Jones. “But the economic data that underlies some of that momentum, not all of it, is pretty persistent. The fact that we’re seeing housing solidly make a corner turn into health is good for 2020.”

The benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 12.81 points, or 0.4%, to 3,329.62, beating the all-time highs it set Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and notching its second weekly gain in a row.

The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 50.46 points, or 0.2%, to 29,348.10. The Nasdaq composite rose 31.81 points, or 0.3%, to 9,388.94.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks slipped 5.58 points, or 0.3%, to 1,699.64.

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Bond prices fell, pushing yields up. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.82% from 1.8%.

The S&P 500 is up 3.1% so far this year, and the technology sector is once again leading the way, with a gain of 5.9%.

Still, the possibility that U.S. trade tensions could heat up again — whether against China or the European Union — as well as the uncertainty brought by the U.S. presidential election, could result in heightened volatility for stocks this year, Richardson said.

“It’s likely that we’ll see some dips and volatility in the market,” Richardson said. “When those occur in the context of solid economic fundamentals and earnings growth, what we’re telling our clients is to buy that dip, because we think share prices will rebound, but we do think the path forward for share prices is rocky this year.”

Chipmaker Qualcomm climbed 4.5% on Friday, leading the technology sector higher.

Communications companies also rose. Google parent Alphabet rose 2%, pushing its valuation further above the $1-trillion mark it attained Thursday. Comcast climbed 1.3% after its NBCUniversal unit showed off a video streaming service, Peacock.

Citizens Financial rose 3.2%, leading financial-sector stocks higher. State Street rose 1.8%.

Several homebuilders climbed after the Commerce Department said that construction of new homes surged in December to the highest level in 13 years. The strong finish caps a year in which falling mortgage rates and a strong labor market helped lift the prospects of the housing industry. Hovnanian Enterprises led builders higher, climbing 2.5%.

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Gap fell 0.4% after the retailer canceled plans to spin off its Old Navy brand, saying the move would be too costly, and announced that the president and CEO of its Gap brand, Neil Fiske, is stepping down.

Major shipping companies struggled in the fourth quarter because of costs and restrictions tied to the ongoing U.S.-China trade war and slower global economic growth.

Expeditors International of Washington shares fell 5.6% after the company warned investors about a weak fourth quarter. JB Hunt Transport Services dropped 4.2% after reporting a disappointing fourth-quarter profit.

Men’s Wearhouse owner Tailored Brands climbed 4.2% on news that the company is selling its Joseph Abboud trademarks to WHP Global for $115 million.

Benchmark crude oil rose 2 cents to settle at $58.54 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, rose 23 cents to close at $64.85 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell 1 cent to $1.64 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1 cent to $1.86 a gallon. Natural gas fell 7 cents to $2.00 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $9.80 to $1,558.80 an ounce. Silver rose 13 cents to $18.01 an ounce. Copper stayed at $2.85 a pound.

U.S. stock markets will be closed Monday in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.


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