S&P 500, Nasdaq weighed down by tech stocks; Powell in focus

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq slipped in choppy trading on Thursday as jittery investors looked to remarks from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on rising bond yields, while data pointed to a staggering recovery in the labor market.

FILE PHOTO: The Fearless Girl statue is seen outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., February 12, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The number of Americans filing for jobless benefits rose last week, likely boosted by brutal winter storms in the densely populated South, though the labor market outlook is improving amid declining new COVID-19 cases.

The crucial monthly payrolls report is expected on Friday.

Wall Street’s main indexes fell in the past two sessions as a spike in U.S. bond yields pressured high-flying tech stocks while economy-linked stocks outperformed on hopes of a new round of fiscal aid and vaccinations.

The energy sector enjoyed a 1% jump on the back of higher oil prices. Apple Inc, Tesla Inc and PayPal Holdings Inc were among the top drags on the S&P 500.

Powell is set to speak at a Wall Street Journal conference at 12:05 p.m. ET (1705 GMT) where his comments will be scrutinized for any hints of concern about last week’s jump in bond yields, in what will be his last outing before the Fed’s March 16-17 policy meeting.

“Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has downplayed inflation worries and continues advocating dovish monetary policy, but those yields suggest investors aren’t completely convinced,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade.

Ahead of Powell’s remarks, the 10-year Treasury yields were at 1.467% but they held below last week’s one-year high of 1.614%.

Tech stocks are particularly sensitive to rising yields because their value rests heavily on future earnings, which are discounted more deeply when bond returns go up.

At 10:02 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 57.06 points, or 0.18%, to 31,327.15, the S&P 500 lost 5.80 points, or 0.15%, to 3,813.92 and the Nasdaq Composite lost 106.99 points, or 0.82%, to 12,890.76.

The S&P 500 traded below its 50-day moving average, an indicator of short-term momentum, while the Nasdaq trimmed its year-to-date gains to 0.1%. In contrast, the Dow has risen 2.5% in 2021 and the S&P 500 is up about 1.5% in the same period.

The U.S. Senate is expected to begin debating President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Thursday after agreeing to phase out payments to higher-income Americans in a compromise with moderate Democratic senators.

Boeing Co rose about 1% as the United States and Britain had agreed a four-month suspension of U.S. retaliatory tariffs in a long-running row over aircraft subsidies to allow negotiations to take place.

Disney’s shares dropped 1% as it announced it will close at least 60 Disney retail stores in North America this year and about 20% of its worldwide total, as it revamps its digital shopping platforms to focus on e-commerce.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by a 1.3-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 2.7-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P 500 posted 17 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 106 new highs and 140 new lows.

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