S&P 500 muted as stimulus deal remains elusive

(Reuters) – Trading on Wall Street was subdued on Friday as doubts crept in about a new U.S. stimulus bill, while the S&P 500 hovered below record highs as a swathe of domestic data showed the economy was still smarting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aggressive stimulus measures have helped the three main U.S. stock indexes bounce from a coronavirus-driven crash in March, and the S&P 500 briefly traded above its Feb. 19 record close for a second straight day on Thursday.

Although the benchmark index was set to rise for a third straight week, it has struggled to top its all-time high as prospects of more fiscal aid faded with the Senate and House of Representatives in recess and no fresh talks scheduled.

“A lot of the economic data points that we will see in the next 2-3 months are definitely going to hinge on not having a stalemate in talks,” said David Wagner, portfolio manager and analyst at Aptus Capital Advisors in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Data on Friday showed U.S. retail sales increased less than expected last month and could slow further due to spiraling COVID-19 cases and a reduction in unemployment benefit checks.

Separately, readings showed that U.S. factory output increased more than expected in July, but remained below pre-pandemic levels while consumer sentiment was largely steady in the first half of August.

“We still have a long way to go (in terms of an economic recovery) and income support is the way to power the consumer through. If we get strong retail sales data over the next two months, given the lack of recent government action, it should be very positive,” Aptus Capital’s Wagner added.

Uncertainty over the timing of a stimulus agreement has undercut sentiment in recent sessions, with the upcoming U.S. presidential elections expected to add another layer of caution.

At 12:42 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 40.89 points, or 0.15%, at 27,937.61 and the S&P 500 was up 4.06 points, or 0.12%, at 3,377.49. The Nasdaq Composite was down 5.80 points, or 0.05%, at 11,036.70.

Technology, which has been the best performing sector through the pandemic, led declines among the 11 major S&P indexes, while financials and industrials outperformed.

Shares of German biotechnology firm CureVac BV nearly tripled in their Nasdaq debut, marking the first stock market debut of a company developing a potential vaccine for the novel coronavirus. [L4N2FG3OM]

Applied Materials Inc gained 4.4% after it forecast fourth-quarter revenue above analysts’ estimates following a rebound in demand for chip equipment and services.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.13-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.21-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 15 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 39 new highs and seven new lows.

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