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S&P 500 surges to record closing high on solid earnings, robust data

Published 02/02/2024, 06:21 AM
Updated 02/02/2024, 06:42 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Nasdaq logo is displayed at the Nasdaq Market site in Times Square in New York City, U.S., December 3, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon/File Photo

By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended sharply higher on Friday and the S&P 500 registered an all-time closing high as strong earnings and a blowout January employment report boosted confidence in the economy, even while lowering the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates any time soon.

The rally capped a tumultuous week filled with high profile earnings, a Fed rate decision, and renewed jitters over regional banking weakness.

Solid quarterly results from Meta Platforms (NASDAQ:META) and (NASDAQ:AMZN) helped boost the S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq Composite Index over 1%, while the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average's gain was more muted.

All three major U.S. stock indexes notched their fourth consecutive weekly gains.

"Earnings were strong for most companies this week, and we believe the Fed meeting was bullish because it properly set expectations for May or June rate cuts," said Jay Hatfield, portfolio manager at InfraCap in New York.

The U.S. added 353,000 jobs in January, blasting past analysts' estimates, while wage growth unexpectedly heated up, the Labor Department reported.

The added signs of economic vigor made it more likely that the U.S. central bank will delay cutting its key policy rate until much later than many had hoped. Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday pushed back against the notion of a March rate cut.

Financial markets are pricing in a 20.5% likelihood of a 25 basis point rate cut at the Fed's March meeting, down from 69.6% a month ago, according to CME's FedWatch tool.

"Looking ahead to the next few days, investors are laser focused on upcoming earnings and economic reports to identify more consistency in the data to gauge the extent and timing of Fed rate cuts," said Greg Bassuk, chief executive officer of AXS Investments in New York.

Fourth-quarter earnings season is barreling along, with 230 of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported. Of those, 80% have come in above Wall Street expectations, according to LSEG.

On aggregate, analysts now see year-on-year S&P 500 earnings growth of 7.8% for the October-to-December period, a significant improvement over the 4.7% estimate as of Jan. 1.

Meta Platforms surged 20.3% to a record high after issuing its first dividend days ahead of the 20th anniversary of its Facebook unit. jumped 7.9% following a fourth-quarter revenue beat as new generative artificial intelligence features in cloud and ecommerce businesses spurred robust growth during the year-end holidays.

Regional bank shares stabilized after two straight days of sharp sell-offs sparked by disappointing earnings from New York Community Bancorp (NYSE:NYCB). The bank's stock rebounded on Friday, rising 5.0%, while the KBW Regional Banking index advanced 0.2%.

The S&P 500 climbed 1.07% to end the session at 4,958.61 points. The Nasdaq gained 1.74% to 15,628.95 points, while Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.35% to 38,654.42 points.

Of the 11 S&P 500 sector indexes, six rose, led by communication services, up 4.69%, followed by a 2.49% gain in consumer discretionary.

Cigna (NYSE:CI) rose 5.4% after the health insurance provider hiked its annual profit forecast.

Microchip Technology (NASDAQ:MCHP) dropped 1.6% in the wake of the chipmaker's disappointing sales forecast.

Footwear maker Skechers U.S.A also provided a downbeat forecast, sending its shares down 10.3%.

Oil supermajor Chevron Corp (NYSE:CVX) gained 2.9% after beating analyst estimates.

Declining stocks outnumbered rising ones within the S&P 500 by a 1.2-to-one ratio.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Nasdaq logo is displayed at the Nasdaq Market site in Times Square in New York City, U.S., December 3, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon/File Photo

The S&P 500 posted 68 new highs and four new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 75 new highs and 144 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was relatively light, with 11.2 billion shares traded, compared to an average of 11.6 billion shares over the previous 20 sessions.

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