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Wall Street drifts near records following weak jobs report

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 8, 2021

This photo from Nov. 23, 2020, shows the New York Stock Exchange in New York. U.S. stocks were ticking higher Friday despite a sober reminder of how many jobs the pandemic is destroying.  (Associated Press)
This photo from Nov. 23, 2020, shows the New York Stock Exchange in New York. U.S. stocks were ticking higher Friday despite a sober reminder of how many jobs the pandemic is destroying. (Associated Press)
By Stan Choe Associated Press

NEW YORK – Wall Street notched more milestones Friday as the market largely shrugged off another discouraging jobs report amid expectations that the incoming Biden administration will pump more aid into the pandemic-ravaged economy.

The S&P 500 rose 0.5%, its second straight record high, after bouncing back from a midday slump that knocked it down 0.5%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq composite all closed at new highs.

Technology stocks and companies that rely on consumer spending helped lift the market, outweighing losses in financial, industrial and other sectors. The gains pushed the S&P 500 to its second weekly gain in a row. Treasury yields continued to move higher, fueled by expectations of increased federal borrowing, more stimulus for the economy and the possibility of higher inflation.

The Labor Department said Friday employers cut jobs for the first time since April as the worsening pandemic led more businesses to shut down.

“There are still close to 4 million people who have been long-term unemployed, which could threaten growth in the next couple of months,” said Megan Horneman, director of portfolio strategy at Verdence Capital Advisors. “The market continues to slowly grind higher because (investors) are expecting additional stimulus when the new administration goes into effect later this month.”

The S&P 500 fell 20.89 points to 3,824.68. The Dow gained 56.84 points, or 0.2%, to 31,097.97. The Nasdaq climbed 134.50 points, or 1%, to 13,201.98.

President Donald Trump acknowledged late Thursday that he’ll be leaving the White House later this month. With Democrats soon in control of the presidency, Senate and House, investors are anticipating Washington will try to deliver even more stimulus for the struggling economy. That’s layering on top of expectations already built up for the economy to get healthier as coronavirus vaccines roll out in 2021.

The much weaker-than-expected report on the jobs market underscored the stakes for the economy, and analysts said it adds more pressure on Congress to act. Employers cut 140,000 more jobs last month than they added, the Labor Department said.

It was the first month of job losses for the economy since April, and it was much a worse reading than the modest growth that economists were expecting to see. Such pressure is rising on economies around the world as the pandemic accelerates.

Treasury yields zigzagged following the release of the jobs report, but they remain on an upward trend. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.12%. That’s up from 1.05% late Thursday and 0.90% early this week.

Stocks of smaller companies fell. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks dropped 5.23 points, or 0.2%, to 2,091.66. It ended the week with a 5.9% gain, well ahead of the 1.8% gain for the big stocks in the S&P 500.

Smaller stocks tend to rise and fall more than their bigger rivals with expectations for the economy’s strength. And many investors are expecting Washington to soon try to send bigger cash payments to most Americans, spend more on infrastructure and provide other support for the struggling economy.

Vaccine distribution is ramping up, but will still likely take many months while people continue to struggle with unemployment, said Jack Manley, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

“That’s why we’re excited about what we might see from a fiscal perspective,” he said. “You’re going to need something to shore up those people.”

The expectations began building shortly after November’s elections, and they accelerated this week after Democrats won two Georgia runoff elections for the Senate. They will give Democrats a majority in the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris providing a tie-breaking vote amid a 50-50 split with Republicans. Democrats already controlled the House, and Democrat Joe Biden is set to take the presidential oath of office on Jan. 20.

Another encouraging thing for many investors is that Democrats will have only a thin majority in the Senate. In the optimistic case for Wall Street, that could give them enough clout to push through more stimulus for the economy but not enough to raise tax rates sharply and toughen up regulations so much that they significantly damage profits for companies.

Financial stocks gave up some of their big gains from earlier in the week, which were triggered by expectations for a strengthening economy and bigger profits from making loans at higher interest rates. Bank of America fell 1%.

On the other end was Tesla, which climbed 7.8% for the biggest gain in the S&P 500. The auto maker surged more than 740% last year, and they’re climbing more amid hopes that a Democratically run D.C. could encourage the use of more electric vehicles. The jump pushes Tesla’s total market value past Facebook’s, and it’s now the fifth-largest stock in the S&P 500.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 2.4%, its highest finish in more than 30 years. Stocks also rose in South Korea and Hong Kong. European markets ended higher.

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