U.S. Stocks Pull Back Off Early Highs But Remain Mostly Positive

Stocks have pulled back off their early highs but remain mostly positive in mid-day trading on Thursday. The advance seen early in the session lifted the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 to new record intraday highs.

Currently, the major averages are holding on to moderate gains. The Dow is up 122.73 points or 0.4 percent at 30,277.27, the Nasdaq is up 61.50 points or 0.5 percent at 12,719.69 and the S&P 500 is up 15.10 points or 0.4 percent at 3,716.27.

The early strength on Wall Street came amid positive developments on the stimulus front, with lawmakers signaling progress toward an agreement on a new relief package.

Following a meeting with other congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., said the talks have made “major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package that would be able to pass both chambers with bipartisan majorities.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed that the two sides are “close to an agreement” but cautioned that it’s “not a done deal yet.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hammill said the Speaker, Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke Wednesday night as part of a series of phone conversations to complete the relief negotiations.

“All three emphasized the urgency to reaching an immediate agreement and will exchange additional paper and resume conversations in the morning,” Hammill said in a post on Twitter.

The positive sentiment was partly offset by a report from the Labor Department showing an unexpected increase in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the week ended December 12th.

The report said initial jobless claims rose to 885,000, an increase of 23,000 from the previous week’s revised level of 862,000.

The continued increase surprised economist, who had expected jobless claims to drop to 800,000 from the 853,000 originally reported for the previous week.

With the unexpected increase, jobless claims climbed to their highest level since hitting 893,000 in the week ended September 5th.

However, while the data has raised concerns about the outlook for the labor market, it could also put further pressure on lawmakers to reach an agreement on a stimulus bill.

Sector News

Gold stocks continue to see substantial strength in mid-day trading, with the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index surging up by 2.6 percent. Earlier in the session, the index reached its best intraday level in a month.

The rally by gold stocks comes amid a sharp increase by the price of the precious metal, as gold for February delivery is spiking $32.50 to $1,748.20 an ounce.

Considerable strength also remains visible among housing stocks, resulting in a 2.3 percent jump by the Philadelphia Housing Sector Index. The index reached a nearly two-month intraday high in early trading.

The strength among housing stocks comes after the Commerce Department released a report showing housing starts unexpectedly increased in the month of November.

The report also showed building permits, an indicator of future housing demand, spiked much more than expected to a fourteen-year high.

Chemical, steel and biotechnology stocks are also seeing some strength in mid-day trading, although most of the major sectors are showing more modest moves.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly higher during trading on Thursday. Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index edged up by 0.2 percent, while China’s Shanghai Composite Index jumped by 1.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets turned mixed over the course of the session. While the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index fell by 0.3 percent, the French CAC 40 Index closed just above the unchanged line and the German DAX Index advanced by 0.8 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries have turned lower over the course of the session after seeing early strength. As a result, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is up by 2 basis points at 0.940 percent.

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