S&P 500, Nasdaq drift towards record highs as data fuels stimulus bets

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq rose on Thursday, just shy of record highs with investors betting on more fiscal stimulus to ride out a coronavirus-driven recession as data showed a stalling recovery in the labor market.

FILE PHOTO: Traders wearing masks work, on the first day of in person trading since the closure during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Mastercard Inc rose about 3% after the credit-card giant said it was planning to offer support for some cryptocurrencies on its network this year, joining a string of big-ticket firms that have pledged similar support.

Other payments companies PayPal Holdings Inc and Visa Inc gained 7% and 2%, respectively.

Bank of New York Mellon rose about 2% after saying it had formed a new unit to help clients hold, transfer and issue digital assets, sending Bitcoin up over 8% to an all-time high of $48,481.

The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits were 793,000 last week, compared to 812,000 in the prior week, but they are well below the record 6.867 million reported last March when the pandemic hit the United States.

“As long as the economic news is difficult the Fed is going to continue to act, which will prop up the stock market,” said Sandy Villere, portfolio manager at Villere & Co in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Wall Street’s main indexes had hit record highs recently on prospects of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to jumpstart the economy with a largely better-than-expected earnings season also helping the sentiment.

Analysts now expect fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 firms to grow 3%, versus forecast of a 10.3% drop at the beginning of January, per Refinitiv data.

“There is room for the market to take a breather but usually there is some sort of catalyst that gets that going,” said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager at Globalt Investments in Atlanta.

“And right now the news isn’t providing you that – fiscal stimulus, monetary stimulus, coronavirus information and earnings are all pretty positive.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reassured investors on Wednesday that interest rates will remain low for some time to spur the economy and jobs growth, but provided no new insights on monetary policy.

The tech sector and semiconductors hit record highs, while economy-linked energy and industrials took a back seat after being in the spotlight this year.

At 11:50 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 4.43 points, or 0.01%, to 31,442.23, the S&P 500 gained 7.70 points, or 0.20%, to 3,917.58 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 74.71 points, or 0.53%, to 14,047.56.

U.S.-listed shares of cannabis companies including Tilray and Aphria reversed premarket gains to drop 42% and 20% after the sector caught the attention of Reddit-inspired retail investors this week.

Walt Disney Co was nearly flat ahead of its results after market close.

Pinterest Inc rose 7.1% after a report said Microsoft Corp approached the image-sharing company in recent months about a potential buyout. The negotiations were, however, currently not active, according to the report.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.3-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and on the Nasdaq.

The S&P 500 posted 33 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 377 new highs and 11 new lows.

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