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Stock indexes listless, remain close to record levels

Stock indexes were listless in midday trading Thursday after the European Central Bank held interest rates at record lows and a series of U.S. companies reported mixed earnings.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was flat at 2,173 at 11:12 a.m. Eastern time. Through the morning, it has remained within 0.1 percent, up or down, of its record close set on Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 16, or 0.1 percent, to 18,579. The Nasdaq composite added 4, or 0.1 percent, to 5,094.

OVERSEAS: European markets were also little changed. France’s CAC 40 index added 0.1 percent, Britain’s FTSE 100 was basically flat and Germany’s index was up 0.4 percent. The European Central Bank left all its interest rates at record lows, but its head said that it could add further stimulus as it gets a better sense of the effects of the United Kingdom’s recent vote to leave the European Union.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 added 0.8 percent, and South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.2 percent.

MORE INTEREST: Government bond yields rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note ticked up to 1.59 percent from 1.58 percent late Wednesday. Earlier in the day, it was close to its highest level since June 24, when the results of the “Brexit” vote caused fear to spike in markets.

DIVIDEND DIP: Low bond yields in recent years have pushed investors to find income in other areas of the market, such as dividend-paying stocks. But when bond yields rise, it can mean less interest for these bond replacements, and the highest-yielding areas of the stock market had some of the weakest performances. Telecom and utility stocks both lagged the market.

HOW MUCH HIGHER? Stocks have climbed steadily upward since hitting a bottom nearly a month ago, aided by better-than-expected reports on corporate earnings and the U.S. economy. But while the data has often topped analysts’ forecasts, they still haven’t been all that strong. Corporate earnings likely weakened last quarter, for example, and the U.S. economy is still growing at a weaker rate than before the Great Recession. That could keep stocks hemmed in, says Rich Weiss, senior portfolio manager at American Century.

“It’s a confounding market,” he said. “This is a case where the U.S. stock market is the only place to go. It’s the best relative purchase out of markets.”

Even though stock prices may look expensive relative to how much profit companies are earning, Weiss said U.S. stocks can stay high because foreign stocks and bonds look even less attractive.

REVVED UP: General Motors rose 76 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $32.25 after reporting that its profit last quarter more than doubled from a year ago. The company also raised its earnings forecast for the year.

FULLY EQUIPPED: United Rentals surged $9.65, or 13.8 percent, to $79.51 after reporting better quarterly results than expected. It was the best-performing stock in the S&P 500.

BOUGHT: EBay jumped $2.83, or 10.5 percent, to $29.82 after reporting stronger-than-expected earnings for the latest quarter. It was the second-biggest gain in the S&P 500.

SOLD: Southwest Airlines fell $3.62, or 8.6 percent, to $38.41 after reporting revenue and earnings growth that fell short of analysts’ expectations. It had the biggest decline in the S&P 500.

CHIPPED: Intel fell $1.49, or 4.2 percent, to $34.19 after the chipmaker reported slower revenue growth last quarter than analysts expected.

COMMODITIES: The price of U.S. crude oil fell 35 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $45.40 a barrel. Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell 20 cents to $46.97 a barrel. Gold rose $3.20, or 0.2 percent, to $1,322.50 an ounce.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 106.22 Japanese yen from 106.87 yen late Wednesday. The euro was nearly flat against the dollar at $1.1005.

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