Wall Street gains as markets await aid package, U.S. jobs data

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Shares on Wall Street rose on Thursday but moved within narrow ranges, as investors awaited a new fiscal stimulus package to bolster the country’s economy and digested better-than-expected U.S. jobless claims data.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq clinched a new record high in early trading, crossing the 11,000-mark for a second straight day but has yet to close above the threshold. The benchmark S&P 500 and blue-chip Dow were about 2% and 8% away from their own peaks scaled in February.

Economic data released on Thursday painted a mixed picture as Labor Department numbers showed a first fall in jobless claims in three weeks, although a separate report showed a 54% surge in job cuts announced by employers in July.

Investors are looking to the next fiscal aid package to further cope with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday Republicans and Democrats remained far apart over what to include in another wave of relief.

“The stimulus package will clearly help sentiment and boost the economy near term,” said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist, at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis.

“To that extent, the package should have an upward bias to the broad market. Ultimately, we need to see the overall economy start to improve and the growth rates start to accelerate,” he added.

In mid-afternoon trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 91.65 points, or 0.34%, to 27,293.17, the S&P 500 .SPX had gained 12 points, or 0.36%, to 3,339.77 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC had added 70.72 points, or 0.64%, to 11,069.12.

The focus now shifts to July jobs report on Friday, with analysts forecasting a rise of 1.58 million new jobs last month and a decline in the unemployment rate to 10.5%.

Wall Street’s main indexes are on pace for a second straight weekly gain, powered by heaps of fiscal and monetary stimulus and better-than-feared second-quarter earnings.

The corporate results season is now in its final stretch, with about 424 S&P 500 firms having reported so far. Earnings have been about 22.5% above analyst expectations, according to IBES Refinitiv data, the highest on record since 1994.

Energy .SPNY and healthcare shares .SPXHC fell the most among major S&P sectors.

Among individual shares, Becton Dickinson and Co (BDX.N) dropped 8.7% after posting quarterly revenue below estimates as delayed elective procedures during coronavirus-led lockdowns squeezed demand for some of its devices.

Western Digital (WDC.O) sank 16.1% after the hard drive maker reported weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter revenue and forecast a soft current quarter.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (BMY.N) gained 2.6% after the drugmaker raised its annual profit forecast on hopes of a recovery in demand for its hospital-administered drugs.

ViacomCBS Inc (VIACA.O) jumped 3.6% after beating analysts’ estimates for quarterly revenue due to high demand for streaming.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.04-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.41-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 25 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 139 new highs and 4 new lows.

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