Wall Street mixed as shutdowns, jobless data lure investors back to market leaders

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq advanced on Thursday but the Dow lost ground as mounting shutdowns and layoffs linked to spiraling COVID-19 infection rates turned investors toward market-leading growth stocks that have shown resiliency to the pandemic.

Bleak jobless claims data helped capped gains, days after news of progress toward a coronavirus vaccine sent the S&P 500 to an all-time closing high.

“Investors are still heavily influenced by short-term outlook for the coronavirus,” said Oliver Pursche, president of Bronson Meadows Capital Management in Fairfield, Connecticut. “Earlier this week we saw jump on good news about the vaccine, but now we have record new cases around the country and that’s changing investor sentiment and the rotation that you’ve seen out of growth stocks.”

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, the data painting a grim picture of increasingly elevated layoffs as spiking coronavirus cases and subsequent shutdowns continue to hobble the labor market.

“There’s a feeling that the economic recovery will be slower than many thought based on the data,” Pursche added.

Record infection numbers have prompted schools and businesses to close their shutters once again, thwarting the world’s largest economy’s recovery from the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

With additional fiscal relief now simmering on the congressional back burner, some market participants are looking to the U.S. Federal Reserve for signs it could step in with more monetary stimulus.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 47.27 points, or 0.16%, to 29,391.15, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 1.57 points, or 0.04%, to 3,569.36 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 66.93 points, or 0.57%, to 11,868.54.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, energy shares .SPNY were up the most, while economically-sensitive stocks such as utilities .SPLRCU and financials .SPSY suffered the largest declines.

Third-quarter reporting season is nearing the finish line, with 472 of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported. Of those, 84.5% have beaten consensus, according to Refinitiv data.

Macy’s Inc M.N reported a 20% plunge in quarterly same-store sales and the department store forecast a tough holiday season.

Chipmaker Nvidia Corp NVDA.O forecast a slight dip in data center chip sales but the company beat quarterly revenue expectations.

L Brands Inc LB.N surged 15.8% after posting better-than-expected quarterly results and a 56% jump in same-store sales.

Tesla Inc TSLA.O shares rose for the third straight session to touch a record high, riding the wave of its pending inclusion in the S&P 500, announced on Monday.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.02-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.09-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted three new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 68 new highs and six new lows.

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