US stocks end wobbly day with slight gains ahead of jobs report
Wall Street capped a wobbly day of trading Thursday with slight gains for the major stock indexes as technology companies and banks outweighed declines elsewhere in the market.
The muted trading came as investors looked ahead to a key government report on jobs and kept an eye on developments in the negotiations to end the trade war between the U.S. and China.
Investors are hoping that the world’s two biggest economies will reach a trade deal before new U.S. tariffs go into effect Dec. 15 on some popular products made in China, including smartphones.
They’re also looking for more clarity on the health of the economy. They’ll get a better sense of that Friday, when the Labor Department issues its November tally of hiring by nonfarm employers.
“You’ve had some mixed economic data this week, so the market probably wants to wait and see what we get tomorrow morning,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird.
The S&P 500 index rose 4.67 points, or 0.2%, to 3,117.43. Even with the latest gain, the benchmark index is on track for a weekly loss, though it’s still up 24.4% for the year.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 28.01 points, or 0.1%, to 27,677.79.
The Nasdaq added 4.03 points, less than 0.1%, to 8,570.70. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 0.94 points, also less than 0.1%, to 1,614.83.
Wall Street has been assessing disappointing economic data this week in the lead-up to Friday’s highly anticipated jobs report. Economists expect the unemployment rate to hold steady at 3.6%.
Data released on Wednesday showed that the U.S. services sector, which makes up the bulk of the economy, grew at a surprisingly slow pace. That does not bode well as a gauge for the economy while the manufacturing sector continues shrinking.
Payroll processor ADP reported Wednesday that private employers added far fewer jobs in November than economists expected. Job growth has been a strong part of the economy and the report raises doubts ahead of the Labor Department’s more comprehensive update.
U.S. stock indexes got off to an uneven start this week amid mixed signals on trade.
Stocks fell early in the week after President Donald Trump said he wouldn’t mind waiting for a trade deal beyond the 2020 elections. The indexes rebounded Wednesday on a report that Washington and Beijing could be on track for a trade deal before the new tariffs kick in next week.
Existing tariffs have been a key sticking point in negotiations and China has been calling for the U.S. to roll back some of them as part of the latest push for a deal.
“It’s kind of a standard playbook at this point: Stocks go up, the administration takes a slightly more aggressive tone; stocks go down, the administration takes a slightly more accommodating tone,” Delwiche said. “Trying to discern exactly what’s happening is anybody’s guess, but we do know a deal hasn’t been signed.”
Technology stocks were among the biggest gainers Thursday. Apple rose 1.5%. The sector has much to gain, or lose, in trade negotiations because many of the companies rely heavily on China for sales and supplies.
Rising bond yields helped steady banks. The sector relies on higher bond yields to charge more lucrative interest on loans. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.80% from 1.78% late Wednesday.
Communication services stocks also rose. ViacomCBS led the sector, climbing 3.6%. It was the first day of trading for the newly combined company.
Energy stocks were the biggest losers. Cimarex Energy slid 1.8%.
Makers and sellers of household goods fell. Molson Coors Brewing dropped 1.5% and supermarket operator Kroger fell 3%.
Retailers also declined. L Brands fell 3.4%.
United Airlines slipped 0.4% after it said CEO Oscar Munoz is stepping down from his post and will become executive chairman. The airline said that President J. Scott Kirby will be its new CEO.
Munoz led the company through a choppy period, and in 2017 gave up his bonus after the forcible removal of a ticketed passenger led to widespread criticism.
Benchmark crude oil was unchanged at $58.43 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, rose 39 cents to close at $63.39 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline rose 2 cents to $1.62 per gallon. Heating oil climbed 1 cent to $1.93 per gallon. Natural gas rose 3 cents to $2.43 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Gold rose $2.90 to $1,476.90 per ounce, silver rose 14 cents to $16.94 per ounce and copper rose 1 cent to $2.65 per pound.
The dollar fell to 108.74 Japanese yen from 108.93 yen on Wednesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1099 from $1.1075.
Major stock indexes in Europe closed mostly lower.
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