Stocks shake off an afternoon stumble to end modestly higher

·3 min read

BEIJING — The stock market recovered from an afternoon stumble and ended with modest gains Thursday, enough to mark more record highs for the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq. The S&P 500 added 0.3% while the Nasdaq managed a gain of 0.1%. Small-company stocks far outpaced the rest of the market, a sign that investors are feeling encouraged about the prospects for the economy. The Russell 2000 rose 0.7%, more than twice the gain of the S&P 500, which tracks large companies. Energy stocks did particularly well as the price of oil rose 2%. The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 1.29%.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Stocks leveled off in afternoon trading Thursday after spending much of the day pushing higher.

The S&P 500 was up less than 0.1% as of 2:38 p.m. Eastern and was still hovering near the record high it set on Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose, 43 points, or 0.1%, to 35,352 and the Nasdaq composite fell 0.1%.

Small-company stocks were doing better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index rose 0.6%.

Health care companies made broad gains and energy stocks gained ground on a 2% jump in oil prices. Insurer Anthem rose 3.2% and Exxon Mobil rose 2.4%. Technology and communications stocks slipped offsetting gains from the rest of the market.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 340,000, a pandemic low and another sign that the job market is steadily rebounding from the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

It's a preview of what traders are waiting for on Friday, when they will get the August jobs report from the Labor Department. Economists are expecting that U.S. employers created 750,000 jobs last month, pushing the unemployment rate down to 5.2%.

That jobs report on Friday will be closely watched by investors for its potential impact on the Federal Reserve's path forward on its support for the economy. The central bank has signaled that it could begin tapering its monthly bond purchases, but will likely keep interest rates low until it's comfortable with a recovery in the employment market. Low interest rates have been a key factor in the broader market's solid gains through the year.

“The market is likely to stay on track because of the Fed, but the risk is on the inflation side,” said Jay Hatfield, CEO of Infrastructure Capital Advisors.

Inflation remains a concern as supply chain issues prompt some companies to raise prices on goods. The housing market, where rental and home prices have been rising, is also a key measure to monitor, Hatfield said, as it could push inflation higher into 2022 and put a dent in the broader market when the Fed eventually does ease back its support for low interest rates.

Bond yields were steady. The 10-year Treasury note remained at 1.30% from the day before.

Separately, the U.S. trade deficit narrowed slightly to $70.1 billion in July as economic recovery overseas helped boost American exports while imports declined.

Elsewhere in the market, several companies made sharp gains on a mix of earning and deal news. Baxter International rose 5% after the medical products company said it is buying Hill-Rom for $10.5 billion in cash. Signet Jewelers rose 3.8% after reporting solid second-quarter financial results.

Trading remains quiet as the summer holiday season comes to a close and Wall Street heads into a three-day holiday weekend. Trading is expected to pick up next week once traders are back from vacation. Typically September is one of the market's more volatile months.

Damian J. Troise, The Associated Press

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