Wall Street ends lower as investors weigh stimulus hopes and bleak jobs data

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wall Street closed lower on Thursday as hopes for fresh fiscal stimulus ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s pandemic aid proposal were pitted against a weakening labor market.

FILE PHOTO: A Wall Street sign is pictured outside the New York Stock Exchange in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

The Labor Department’s weekly jobless report showed the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits increased more than expected last week, underscoring the impact of a resurgence in COVID-19 infections.

While the S&P 500 lost steam toward the end of the day, it spent must of the session in positive territory as investors counted on Biden unveiling on Thursday evening a stimulus plan that could exceed $1.5 trillion.

“There’s a tug-of-war going on between the prospects for further fiscal stimulus, as a result of Democratic control of the Senate, and a jobs market that has a long way to go before it heals,” said Emily Roland, co-chief investment strategist at John Hancock Investment Management. “You have these competing forces going on which are keeping markets range bound.”

But Roland noted that disappointing jobs data could provide “further fodder for Biden to potentially market this plan.”

“Everybody’s waiting to hear the details … Whether it’s $1 trillion or $2 trillion, that’s a massive amount of fiscal stimulus,” she said.

Citing two people familiar with the plans, The New York Times reported that Biden is expected on Thursday to unveil a $1.9 trillion spending package.

Since the S&P had gained steadily ahead of the story Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth in Fairfield, Connecticut suggested investors were selling on the news.

Investors also seemed reassured after U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said an interest rate hike would not be coming anytime time soon and pushed back against suggestions that it might taper bond purchases any time soon.

Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 68.95 points, or 0.22%, to 30,991.52, the S&P 500 lost 14.3 points, or 0.38%, to 3,795.54 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 16.31 points, or 0.12%, to 13,112.64.

Of the 11 major S&P sectors, economically-sensitive energy showed the biggest percentage gains as oil prices rose.

The domestically-focused small-cap Russell 2000 index, as well as the Dow Jones Transports index, considered a barometer of economic health, both scaled all-time highs.

Helping the transport index was a rise in shares of Delta Air Lines after Chief Executive Ed Bastian forecast 2021 to be “the year of recovery” after the coronavirus pandemic prompted its first annual loss in 11 years.

The S&P 1500 airlines index also soared.

This was after President Donald Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice when the House voted 232-197 on Wednesday to charge him with inciting riots at the Capitol.

While some investors worry the impeachment proceedings could delay stimulus, Max Gokhman, head of asset allocation at Pacific Life Fund Advisors in Newport Beach, California played down these fears saying its not going to “derail the further economic boost that we’re going to get from the stimulus,” he said.

The Philadelphia semiconductor index also hit a record high with a big boost from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd. The chip manufacturer’s US shares jumped after it announced its best-ever quarterly profit and raised revenue and capital spending estimates.

Investors were also waiting for the earnings season to kick into full swing with results from JPMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo slated for Friday.

First-quarter and 2021 corporate guidance will be key for investors as new lockdowns threaten to push back a recovery in corporate earnings, according to investment banks.

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