A late slide erases gains for US indexes, leaving them mixed

AP – Wall Street closed out a choppy week of trading with more of the same on Friday, as a late-afternoon stumble led United States (US) stock indexes to a mixed finish.

The S&P 500 ended the day just a fraction of a point higher after a burst of selling erased a 0.9 per cent gain. Despite a three-day stretch of losses, the benchmark index still managed to finish higher for the week, its third straight weekly gain.

Big Tech and energy companies fell while healthcare and industrial stocks rose. The Dow Jones Industrial Average also eked out a gain, while the Nasdaq composite posted its fourth straight loss. Treasury yields were flat.

The market had been up for much of the day after the government reported that retail sales rose in September for the fifth straight month. That report appeared to overshadow new data showed US industrial production had its weakest showing last month since the spring.

The market’s late-day fade capped a week of volatility for stocks as companies began reporting their third-quarter results and traders’ hopes for a new round of economic stimulus from Washington dimmed.

“The market is sort of bouncing around here,” Senior Portfolio Manager with Globalt Investments Tom Martin said. “We’ve had a lot of noise lately and that’s probably what we’re going to have over the next couple of weeks.”

The American Flag hangs outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York. PHOTO: AP

The S&P 500 rose 0.47 points to 3,483.81. The Dow gained 112.11 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 28,606.31. At one point, it had been up by 348 points. The Nasdaq fell 42.32 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 11,671.56. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks dropped 5.08 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 1,633.81.

Despite the market’s downbeat finish, the major stock indexes have already recouped most of their losses from September’s market swoon.

Stocks have been mostly climbing this month, but trading became choppy this week as ongoing talks between Democrats and Republicans on an economic stimulus package failed to deliver results. Investors have been hoping that Washington would provide more financial support for the economy since July, when a USD600-a-week extra benefit for the unemployed expired.

Traders have been watching economic data closely to see whether the loss of that beefed-up unemployment aid would lead to an overall pullback in spending. On Thursday, the government’s said the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid increased last week to 898,000, a historically high level that underscores how the economy continues to be hobbled by the pandemic and recession that erupted seven months ago.

Friday’s retail sales report provides some encouragement, suggesting Americans’ appetite for spending remained solid last month.

“There’s a need for stimulus, even though this data is heartening in a way,” Investment Strategist at Baird Ross Mayfield said. Still, given that the November 3 election is fast approaching, the market is not expecting leadership in Washington to deliver an economic stimulus package before voters go to the polls, Mayfield said. “Now, it’s essentially baked in that we probably won’t see anything until after the election.”

The retail sales report initially juiced shares in retailers and other companies that rely on consumer spending, but most of those gains evaporated by the end of the day.

Other data point to persistent weakness in the economy. The Federal Reserve said on Friday US industrial production fell 0.6 per cent last month, the weakest showing since April’s 12.7 per cent skid amid widespread business shutdowns due to the pandemic. Economists had been expecting an increase.

A surge in new coronavirus infections in Europe, the Americas and parts of Asia, is also giving traders reason to turn cautious. The new caseloads prompted governments in France and Britain to impose new restrictions aimed on containing the outbreak contributed to some of the selling in the market earlier this week.

Across the S&P 500, analysts expected companies to report another drop in profits for the summer from year-ago levels. But they forecasted the decline to moderate from the nearly 32 per cent plunge from the spring, reflecting some signs of improvement in the economy since then.

Analysts have been raising their earnings forecasts for how companies fared in the third quarter after lowering them sharply ahead of the second quarter. That means it will be tougher for companies reporting results the next couple of weeks to beat expectations.