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Market Snapshot: S&P 500 and Nasdaq push deeper into record territory ahead of Friday jobs report

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The S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq Composite touched fresh records Thursday, as jobless benefit claims data showed continued slight improvement in the labor market ahead of Friday’s August employment report.

How are stocks trading?
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average
    DJIA,
    +0.36%

    was trading 147 points, or 0.4%, higher at 35,458.
  • The S&P 500
    SPX,
    +0.25%

    was gaining 14 points, or 0.3%, to reach 4,538, following an intraday all-time high at 4,545.85.
  • Nasdaq Composite Index
    COMP,
    +0.20%

    trades 35 points, or 0.2%, higher at 15,344, after setting an intraday record at 15,380.07.

The Dow
DJIA,
+0.36%

fell 48 points on Wednesday to close at 35,312, while the S&P 500
SPX,
+0.25%

ended above flat and the Nasdaq Composite
COMP,
+0.20%

outperformed, rising 0.3%.

What’s driving markets?

Stocks gained altitude on Thursday after weekly initial jobless benefit claims dropped by 14,000 to 340,000 in the week ended Aug. 28, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The upbeat action comes ahead of Friday’s August employment report, which will give markets their next chance to guess when — and by how much — the U.S. Federal Reserve will begin slowing, or tapering, its program of $120 billion in monthly bond purchases.

“The jobs report is going to be big; it’s always big,” said Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth Management, in a phone interview, adding that a weak payroll report could potentially delay tapering of the central bank’s large-scale purchases, but that’s not the only thing on investors’ minds.

“We know the Fed is going to taper. There’s no doubt about it,” Pavlik said. “What we don’t know is by how much. That’s the question.”

Oxford Economics’ economists Nancy Vanden Houten and Gregor Daco said they expect jobless claims to continue improving, but will be watching to see if businesses and workers have become more cautious due to the spread of the coronavirus from the delta variant, in a research note.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has signaled that the central bank would be watching employment data as it mulls the end of its pandemic-era measures to add liquidity to markets.

Also read: Fed chair Powell says he supports starting to taper bond purchases this year

On Wednesday, weak numbers from payroll provider ADP’s private-sector employment report and the Institute for Supply Management’s measure of factory jobs underscored the room the U.S. economy still has to grow in terms of employment.

“Not a great indicator for Friday’s nonfarm payrolls and this would potentially give the Fed more rope to delay the taper,” said Neil Wilson, an analyst at Markets.com, in a daily research note.

“If data keeps getting worse, or less good, rather, then you can see the FOMC start to voice concerns at the [September] meeting and we could be in a position where the US central bank actually doesn’t taper asset purchases this year,” Wilson wrote.

Beyond the Fed, investors were also looking past the economic devastation tied to Hurricane Ida, pegged as the most expensive ever, which made landfall in Louisiana over the weekend, before triggering a state of emergency in New York City and New Jersey early Thursday due to flooding, while also threatening New England with more tornadoes.

Read: Here’s why New York, Philly and inland spots aren’t safe from climate change-fueled hurricanes like Ida

“I think there’s still some trepidation about what September and October hold,” Pavlik said. “September often is a very hard month for the stock market, and I think that’s on the back of peoples’ minds.”

Should a correction hit stocks, Pavlik thinks investors will buy, since many have been “waiting for bargains,” similar to how shoppers wait for Labor Day and the Thanksgiving holiday sales before buying a new refrigerator or other large appliances.

In economic data, U.S. factory orders rose 0.4% in July, as manufacturers worked to pump out more goods to keep up with high demand. Economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.3% increase.

U.S. productivity also rose at a revised 2.1% annual pace in the second quarter, a bit lower than the government’s previously reported 2.3% rise from April to June, while a new report showed the U.S. international trade deficit falling from a record high, notching a decline of 4.3% in July to $70.1 billion.

Which companies are in focus
  • Shares of Toro Co. TTC rose 2.2% Thursday, after the lawn care equipment company reported fiscal third-quarter profit and sales that rose above expectations, as strength in the residential business helped offset a miss in professional, and raised its full-year outlook as strong demand was expected to offset continued supply chain, inflation and labor pressures.
  • Shares of Nikola CorpNKLA ran up 1.8% Thursday, after the electric commercial truck maker announced agreements with the Germany-based Bosch Group of companies for Nikola Class 7 and Class 8 fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). 
  • Manulife Financial Corp. MFC said Thursday its Hancock Natural Resource Group unit closed its acquisition of 300,000 acres of pine timberland on behalf of the Swedish pension system fund AP3. 
  • Shares of American Eagle Outfitters Inc. AEO tumbled 9.4% toward a more than five-month low, after the fashion apparel and accessories retailer reported fiscal second-quarter profit that beat expectations but revenue that rose to a record but came up shy of forecasts. 
  • Shares of Mastercraft Boat Holdings IncMCFT were down 3% Thursday, after the recreational powerboat company swung to a fiscal fourth-quarter profit that was well above expectations, as sales tripled to a record, and provided an upbeat full-year outlook.
  • Baxter International IncBAX said Thursday it has entered an agreement to acquire fellow medical technology company Hill-Rom Holdings Inc. for $156 a share, in a deal with an enterprise value of about $12.4 billion.
  • Shares of Hormel Foods Corp. HRL sank 4.4% Thursday, after the branded foods company, which brands include Planters, Skippy and Spam, reported fiscal third-quarter profit that matched expectations, while record revenue beat, but cut its full-year earnings guidance, as the company managed through inflationary pressure and labor availability challenges.
  • Facebook‘s FB WhatsApp was fined €225 million ($267 million) by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission for breaking data protection rules.
  • Shares of Signet Jewelers LtdSIG shot up 6.2% toward the highest price seen during regular-sessions hours since January 2017, after the diamond jewelry retailer swung to a fiscal second-quarter profit that was more than double what was expected, as revenue also beat forecasts, and raised its full-year outlook.
How are other assets faring?
  • The 10-year Treasury note yields
    TMUBMUSD10Y,
    1.297%

    was trading flat to its 1.301% level on Wednesday.
  • U.S. oil futures were up, with West Texas Intermediate crude for October delivery
    CLV21,
    +2.38%

    trading 2.4% higher, at $70.25 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
  • December gold
    GCZ21,
    -0.30%

     fell 0.3%, to trade at $1,810.90 an ounce, following a decline of 0.1% on Wednesday.
  • In Asia, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225
    NIK,
    +0.33%

    climbed 0.3%, while the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index
    HSI,
    +0.24%

    lifted 0.2% and the Shanghai Composite
    SHCOMP,
    +0.84%

    pushed 0.8% higher.
  • In Europe, London’s FTSE 100
    UKX,
    +0.20%

    closed up 0.2%, while the pan-European Stoxx 600
    SXXP,
    +0.31%

    rose 0.3%; in Paris, the CAC 40
    PX1,
    +0.06%

    increased 0.1% while Frankfurt’s DAX
    DAX,
    +0.10%

    rose 0.1%.

Jack Denton contributed reporting

Coronavirus Update: European regulator sees ‘no urgent need’ for COVID-19 boosters, aligning with WHO view and not the U.S.

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