S&P 500 begins second half of 2021 at new peak as labor market heals

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 index kicked off the second half of the year at a record high on Thursday, as data showed fewer-than-expected weekly jobless claims and energy stocks were supported by a spike in oil prices.

FILE PHOTO: Dividers are seen inside a trading post on the trading floor as preparations are made for the return to trading at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Eight of the 11 major S&P sectors rose in early trading, with energy, financials, industrials and materials leading the charge.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 51,000 to a seasonally adjusted 364,000 in the week ended June 26, while layoffs plunged to a 21-year low in June as companies held on to their workers amid labor shortages.

“This morning’s beat on jobless claims is a real bright spot,” said Cliff Hodge, chief investment officer at Cornerstone Wealth.

“Staying below that big-round-number 400,000 level could bolster confidence in risk-taking during the dog days of summer.”

Separately, ISM data showed U.S. manufacturing activity grew at a moderate pace in June but employment contracted for the first time in seven months.

With the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq hitting a series of record highs last month, investors are razor-focused on Friday’s nonfarm payrolls report, where a strong reading could force the U.S. Federal Reserve to rethink its accommodative stance.

Focus also shifts to the second-quarter earnings season in the coming weeks to gauge whether the first-half momentum could continue further for the remaining year.

“The markets had a year’s worth of gains. We are looking a period of consolidation and continued rotation within sectors,” said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, a family investment office in New Vernon, New Jersey.

At 10:09 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 85.82 points, or 0.25%, at 34,588.33, the S&P 500 was up 13.06 points, or 0.30%, at 4,310.56, and the Nasdaq Composite was up 8.40 points, or 0.06%, at 14,512.35.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc dropped 6.5% as it lowered the forecast for COVID-19 vaccine shots to be administered this year.

Didi Global Inc jumped 12.8%, a day after its shares ended their first day of U.S. trading slightly over their initial public offering price, valuing China’s ride-hailing giant at $68.49 billion.

Micron Technology Inc slumped 4.5% even as the chipmaker beat estimates for quarterly profit and forecast fourth-quarter revenue above expectations.

MGM Resorts International rose 2% after the U.S. casino operator said it will buy the remaining 50% stake in its JV, CityCenter Holdings LLC, for $2.125 billion from Infinity World Development.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 2.10-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 1.32-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 23 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 30 new highs and 10 new lows.

Graphic: S&P 500 versus U.S. unemployment data –

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