Stocks barely budge on Wall Street

NEW YORK (AP) – Stock indexes barely budged on Wall Street on Friday, leaving the S&P 500 just shy of its record once again.

The S&P 500 edged down 0.58, or less than 0.1 per cent, 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 coronavirus pandemic.

In each of the prior two days, the S&P 500 made a brief run above its record closing high, which was set in February, only to fade in the afternoon. It remains within 0.4 per cent of its record.

Wall Street was nearly evenly split between stocks that rose and fell, and the moves were almost uniformly modest. The Dow Jones Industrial Average inched up 34.30 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 27,931.02, while the Nasdaq composite dipped 23.20, or 0.2 per cent, to 11,019.30.

Consumer spending is the main locomotive for the United States (US) economy, and a report on Friday showed some more improvements for US retailers, though less than economists expected.

Sales at grocery stores, gas stations and other retailers rose 1.2 per cent last month from 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 per cent growth. It also fell short of the two per cent growth that economists were expecting.

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 following the expiration of US government programmes to aid the economy, including USD600 in extra unemployment benefits each week. Investors said 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 said they remain far apart on a possible compromise.

“Congress has to follow up on the stimulus package because they essentially promised it,” Zigmont said.

“Main Street America is counting on it,” he said. “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 two per cent.

Among the biggest gainers in the index was Applied Materials, which rose 3.9 per cent.