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Stocks Rise as Jobless Claims Fall

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U.S. stocks climbed Thursday after fresh data showed the number of people seeking unemployment benefits remains elevated.

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The S&P 500 ticked up 0.7% shortly after the opening bell, looking to extend its winning streak to four sessions. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.9%, or 263 points. The Nasdaq Composite added 0.6%, pointing to a rise in technology stocks.

Investors are watching for signs that the economic recovery remains under way despite a high number of Covid-19 cases and new variants that existing inoculations may be less effective against. A handful of stocks that grew popular on online forums and posted big swings in recent days have also calmed. Meanwhile, vaccine rollouts are ramping up in the U.S., offering hope that there may be a sharp rebound later in the year.

“The move now is for cautious optimism: the market is turning back to fundamentals,” said Grace Peters, an investment strategist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. “Volatility is here to stay, but markets will ultimately grind higher.”

The latest data on jobless claims showed that 779,000 people applied for initial benefits last week, a decline from the previous week, but still at a historically high level. Cold weather, a surge in Covid-19 case numbers and the threat of a new, highly contagious variant of the virus have contributed to a broader winter slowdown that has hindered the labor market’s recovery, economists say.

Investors are awaiting next steps on a new fiscal stimulus package in the U.S. In a Wednesday evening call with House Democrats, President Biden said he’s willing to send the next round of checks to a smaller, more targeted group of people.“I think that flexibility is a good thing,” said Mrs. Peters, since it could improve the chances of passing the next stimulus bill in a timely manner.“The market is expecting around $1 trillion, anything more than that could be positive for equities,” she added. “This is one of the tailwinds we’re looking for to support growth through the second quarter and beyond.”Following the opening bell,

eBay

jumped 5.7% after the e-commerce giant’s fourth-quarter profit climbed, beating analysts’ projections.

PayPal

rose 4.7%. after it reported late Wednesday that fourth-quarter profit that tripled from a year earlier. Chip maker

Qualcomm

slid 10% after it reported revenue that came slightly below expectations and said it was affected by supply constraints.

GameStop

tumbled 32%. The videogame retailer has been among a handful of stocks that soared in popularity among day traders in recent days, and Thursday’s move reflects the dwindling frenzy.

AMC Entertainment Holdings

dropped 15%.

Earnings season continues, with

Ford Motor

and Snap, which owns the Snapchat social media app, slated to report after markets close.

Ford Motor is among the companies scheduled to report earnings Thursday.



Photo:

Scott Olson/Getty Images

In bond markets, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield ticked up to 1.148%, from 1.129% on Wednesday.

The dollar strengthened, with the WSJ Dollar Index rising 0.3%. The move is being driven by higher capital flows into the U.S., which is rolling out its vaccine program faster than Europe, triggering expectations for a quicker economic rebound, said

Jordan Rochester,

a currencies strategist at Nomura.

In commodities, silver declined 2.5% following a bout of volatility earlier in the week. Brent crude, a global benchmark for oil prices, ticked up 0.4%.

Oil prices have been buoyed by OPEC’s statement Wednesday asking countries to stick with production cuts given the uncertain market conditions, said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at Nordic bank SEB Group.

“What they are doing is driving down inventories and driving prices higher,” Mr. Schieldrop said.

Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 advanced 0.2%.

In Asia, most major benchmarks declined. Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 1.1%, while the Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.4%.

Write to Anna Hirtenstein at anna.hirtenstein@wsj.com

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