Stocks wavered between small gains and losses on Wall Street in afternoon trading Thursday as investors remain cautiously optimistic about prospects for a new round of government aid as the economic recovery seemingly stalls.
Wall Street continued to digest solid corporate earnings and updates on a decline of new virus cases. The latest government report on jobless claims, though, reaffirmed that employment remains a weak spot in the economy as vaccine distribution ramps up in the hopes of eventually ending the pandemic and its impact.
The S&P 500 index was up less than 0.1% in another wobbly day of trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 35 points, or 0.1%, to 31,400 as of 3:32 p.m. Eastern after setting a new record high on Wednesday. The Nasdaq rose 0.2%.
Technology stocks led the gainers after two relatively weak days. Most other sectors of the market were edging lower. The yield on 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.16% from 1.15% late Wednesday after being as high as 1.20% earlier this week.
President Joe Biden held his first conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Although there wasn’t any indication of a major change in U.S. trade policy, businesses are hoping for a less combative approach to trade policy between the world’s two biggest economies than during the Trump administration. Technology companies were among some of the hardest hit companies by tough trade policies during the previous administration.
Many markets in Asia were closed for the Lunar New Year and other holidays. Markets in Europe ended mixed.
Companies continued reporting mostly solid earnings, adding to a surprisingly good earnings season. Kraft Heinz climbed 4.9% and Zillow Group jumped 17.5% after beating Wall Street’s fourth-quarter profit forecasts.
The pandemic and business shutdowns are still hurting many companies and crimping their financial results. Molson Coors fell 9.6% for the biggest decline in the S&P 500 after its profits fell short of expectations because business shutdowns in Europe hurt sales.
Elsewhere in the market, shares of online dating service operator Bumble soared 64% on their first day of trading. And cannabis stocks fell broadly a day after surging amid a buying spree fueled partly by members of the same online forum that hyped GameStop and other beaten-down companies in recent weeks.
Sundial Growers was down 19%, though it remains up by more than 400% so far this year. Aphria and Tilray, Canadian cannabis companies that agreed to combine in December, also fell sharply. Aphria slid about 33% and Tilray skidded 49%. So far this year, their shares are up 150% and 300%, respectively.
Marijuana stocks had been surging before becoming the latest darling of online investors as more states moved last year to allow legal sales. The stocks are also benefiting from optimism that industry friendly legislation measures could become law under the Biden administration. Last week, Democratic leaders in the Senate reiterated their intention to move on comprehensive cannabis reform in the current legislative session.
Wall Street is still looking for more government aid to help bolster the struggling economy as vaccine distribution progresses and the number of new virus cases continues falling. Democrats in Congress are working on a potential $1.9 trillion relief package that would include direct payments to people and more jobless aid as unemployment remains stubbornly high.
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to 793,000. The job market had shown tentative improvement last summer but slowed through the fall and in the past two months. Nearly 10 million jobs still remain lost to the pandemic.