S&P 500, Nasdaq up on tech gains; unfazed by vaccine pause, inflation

(Reuters) -The S&P 500 hit an intraday record high on Tuesday and the Nasdaq composite index jumped as investors flocked to tech-related stocks, and markets took the halt in Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and strong U.S. inflation in stride.

FILE PHOTO: A U.S flag is seen on the New York Stock Exchange in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

The drugmaker’s shares fell 1.9% after hitting a one-month low, as calls for pausing the use of its COVID-19 vaccine after six women developed rare blood clots dealt a fresh setback to efforts to tackle the pandemic.

The news came as U.S. data showed the consumer price index (CPI) in March rose by the most in more than 8-1/2 years, kicking off what the majority of economists expect will be a brief period of higher inflation.

The J&J news could spark fears the broader economic rebound stemming from vaccine distribution could be derailed. Shares of cruise operators, airlines and hotel chains poised to benefit from an economic reopening fell.

Wider markets remained positive as investors returned to high-flying technology names that flourished during coronavirus-induced lockdowns last year. Apple Inc, Microsoft Corp and Amazon.com Inc gained between 0.8% and 2.3%.

“While the jump in CPI is pretty significant, the market may take it with a grain of salt,” said Mike Loewengart, managing director at investment strategy at E*TRADE Financial.

“The real curveball today is the J&J vaccine halt, although this too may be shrugged off as a minor setback. While this may cause some short-term volatility, investors have been pretty steadfast in their faith in a full economic recovery.”

At 2.33 pm EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 71.7 points, or 0.21%, to 33,673.7, the S&P 500 gained 13.24 points, or 0.32%, to 4,141.23 and the Nasdaq Composite added 120.95 points, or 0.87%, to 13,970.95.

The technology sector rose 0.6%, and the utilities index was up 1.2%.

The NYSE FANG+TM Index jumped 1.6%, putting it on track for a record 12th straight session of gains.

Highlighting investors’ attitudes was the volatility index, which matched the 14-month low of 16.69 hit on Friday.

“This year, 20 had proved to be a bit of a floor, but what we’ve seen from the start of this month is the VIX broke down through that level and established its trading range at mid-teens, which is notable for the broader risk environment as we enter earnings season,” said Greg Boutle, U.S. head of equity and derivative strategy at BNP Paribas.

First-quarter earnings season begins in earnest on Wednesday, with the first reports expected from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo.

Analysts expect earnings for S&P 500 firms to have jumped 25% from a year earlier, driven by strength in consumer discretionary and financial companies, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain-related firms Riot Blockchain jumped 12.3% and Marathon Digital Holdings added 3.3% as bitcoin prices soared 6%, a day ahead of the listing of Coinbase, the largest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange.

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