Stocks barely budge, leaving S&P 500 just shy of record high
Stock indexes on Wall Street barely budged Friday, leaving the Standard & Poor’s 500 index just shy of its record once again.
The S&P 500 ended down 0.58 point, or less than 0.1%, to 3,372.85 after drifting between small gains and losses throughout the day. They’re the latest meandering moves for the market, which has taken a pause after erasing almost all of the steep losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In each of the prior two days, the S&P 500 made a brief run above its record closing high, which it set in February, only to fade in the afternoon. It remains within 0.4% of its record.
Wall Street was nearly evenly split between stocks that rose and those that fell, and the moves were almost uniformly modest. The Dow Jones industrial average inched up 34.30 points, or 0.1%, to 27,931.02, while the Nasdaq composite slipped 23.20, or 0.2%, to 11,019.30.
Consumer spending is the main locomotive for the U.S. economy, and a report out Friday showed some more improvements for U.S. retailers, though less than economists expected.
Sales at grocery stores, gas stations and other retailers rose 1.2% last month compared with June. It’s the third straight month of gains, following a historic plunge in the spring, but it marked a sharp slowdown from June’s 8.4% growth. It also fell short of the 2% growth that economists expected.
The report showed that the economy is now “more in a gentle phase of recovery,” said Mike Zigmont, director of trading and research at Harvest Volatility Management. “It’s positive, but it’s not as ballistic as it was before,” he said.
Economists say consumer spending could be under more pressure now that some U.S. government programs to aid the economy have expired, including $600 in extra unemployment benefits each week. Investors say it’s crucial that Washington deliver another lifeline to the economy, and markets seem to be assuming a deal will happen.
But Democrats and Republicans say they remain far apart.
“Congress has to follow up on the stimulus package because they essentially promised it,” Zigmont said. “Main Street America is counting on it. ... You can’t pull the rug out from under the world.”
The day’s trading was notably quiet, with only a few stocks in the S&P 500 falling even 2%. Among the biggest gainers in the index was Applied Materials, which rose 3.9%. The tech company reported stronger results for the summer than analysts expected and gave a better-than-expected forecast for the current quarter.
Outside the S&P 500, shares of German biopharmaceutical company CureVac more than tripled in their first day of trading. After selling shares at $16 in an initial public offering, the stock jumped to $55.90. The company, whose backers include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the German government, is developing a vaccine against COVID-19 and other medicines using messenger RNA.
The S&P 500 notched a gain of 0.6% for the week. It’s the index’s sixth rise in the last seven weeks, but it’s also its smallest rise in the last three weeks.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury held steady at 0.71% after a big climb earlier this week. It had been at 0.57% Monday, then climbed through the week after a couple reports on inflation came in higher than expected and after the U.S. Treasury auctioned off more bonds to help cover the government’s huge deficit.
In Europe, stocks trended lower after Britain said it was imposing a 14-day quarantine on travelers from France, which said it would respond in kind. Tourism and travel stocks were hit particularly hard, such as budget airlines EasyJet and IAG.
Asian markets were mixed after China reported its factory output rose 4.8% in July from a year earlier, on par with June’s increase. Retail sales fell 1.1% as consumers remained cautious.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil slipped 23 cents to settle at $42.01 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 16 cents to $44.80 a barrel.
Gold for delivery in December fell $20.60 to settle at $1,949.80 an ounce.