S&P 500, Nasdaq at record highs as stimulus bets offset higher jobless claims

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq hit record highs on Thursday on increased optimism over a coronavirus stimulus bill, even as an unexpected rise in weekly jobless claims pointed to further economic stress from the COVID-19 pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: A statue of George Washington stands as Federal Hall across Wall Street from the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., October 26, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Technology stocks were among the best performing S&P sectors, with utilities and materials shares, primed to benefit from more stimulus, also making large gains.

Negotiations were underway in Congress late on Wednesday over the details of a $900 billion aid bill, with top Democrats and Republicans sounding more positive than they have in months on a fresh response to a crisis that has killed more than 304,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week as a relentless surge in new coronavirus infections hobbled business operations and hurt hiring trends.

This followed a reading on Wednesday that showed U.S. retail sales fell more than expected in November, as consumer spending remained constrained.

Still, many participants view the recent data as furthering the case for immediate measures to support the economy.

At 10:05 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 131.50 points, or 0.44%, at 30,286.04, the S&P 500 was up 15.05 points, or 0.41%, at 3,716.22. The Nasdaq Composite was up 65.21 points, or 0.52%, at 12,723.40.

The Federal Reserve also kept interest rates at near-zero levels on Wednesday and vowed to keep funneling cash into financial markets over the long term. Equity markets have been among the main beneficiaries of accommodative policy through the virus outbreak.

“We have been waiting on this stimulus for months now, but we also have the Federal Reserve buying almost a trillion and a half dollars worth of assets a year,” said Mike O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading.

“They have promised to keep interest rates at zero for the next three years and that is also where the optimism comes from.”

Among individual movers, General Mills Inc rose 1.1% after it beat second-quarter profit estimates, boosted by sales of its pet foods and baking products.

Outsourcing services provider Accenture rose 7.4% after it raised its annual sales forecast and beat quarterly revenue estimates as an extended work-from-home period boosted its digital, cloud and security services.

MacroGenics Inc jumped 3% after the drug developer said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved its treatment for an advanced type of breast cancer.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners for a 1.60-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.51-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 28 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 141 new highs and three new lows.

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