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Wall Street flat as banks, discretionary stocks fall, tech rises

By Yashaswini Swamynathan

U.S. stocks were little changed on Thursday as a drop in banks and discretionary stocks were offset by gains in technology names.

Investors are also assessing a host of economic data including the ADP payrolls report, which showed that 153,000 jobs were added in the private sector in December compared with economists’ expectation of 170,000.

The report sets a precedent to Friday’s nonfarm payrolls data, which includes hiring in both private and public sectors.

“Overall it looks like investors will be in a wait-and-see mode ahead of the Labor Department report tomorrow,” said Aaron Clark, portfolio manager at GW&K Investment Management.

U.S. stocks rallied for nearly two months since Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election in November, taking the Dow tantalizingly close to the historic 20,000 mark. However, some analysts warned the market was poised for a correction.

“There is a growing gap between expectations for stimulus measures versus what likely will be the reality, so we might get some buyer’s remorse when the market realizes that all these changes will not happen as quickly as they expect,” Clark said.

Almost every Federal Reserve policymaker said Trump’s promises of tax cuts and infrastructure spending could stoke higher inflation and require faster interest rate hikes, the minutes of the central bank’s December meeting showed on Wednesday.

At 9:41 a.m. ET (1441 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 6.02 points, or 0.03 percent, at 19,936.14, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 1.27 points, or 0.05 percent, at 2,269.48 and the Nasdaq Composite index .IXIC was up 10.87 points, or 0.2 percent, at 5,487.87.

Six of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were lower, with financials .SPSY and consumer discretionary .SPLRCD weighing the most on the broader index.

Department stores Macy’s (M.N) dropped 13.5 percent and Kohl’s (KSS.N) nearly 18 percent – chiefly responsible for the decline in discretionary stocks – after the companies cut their profit forecasts. Nordstrom (JWN.N) and J.C. Penney (JCP.N) lost about 8 percent each.

Alexion Pharma (ALXN.O) was the biggest percentage gainer on the S&P, was up 8.2 percent at $137.54 after the drugmaker said it did not see a need to restate its previously issued results, following an investigation related to sales practices of its blood disorder drug Soliris.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,339 to 1,310. On the Nasdaq, 1,150 issues fell and 1,112 advanced.

The S&P 500 index showed six new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 35 new highs and two new lows.

(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)