S&P 500 hits 4,000 in early trade as tech stocks climb even as weekly jobless claims rise

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MARKET SNAPSHOT

Technology stocks gained enough traction early Thursday to push the broad-market S&P 500 index to a new milestone above 4,000 to start the second quarter as U.S. Treasury yields tracked lower.

Investors are weighing the merits of an infrastructure proposal by President Joe Biden outlined on Wednesday, and shrugged off a weekly report that indicated a perhaps temporary spike in Americans seeking unemployment insurance amid the pandemic.

What are major indexes doing?

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 107 points at 33,094, a gain of 0.4%.
  • The S&P 500 rose 27 points, or 0.7%, to 4,000, hitting an record intraday peak at 4,001.23.
  • The Nasdaq Composite Index was gaining 186 points, or 1.4%, at 13,433.

On Wednesday, equity benchmarks finished mostly higher, with tech shares in the lead. The Dow shed 85.41 points, or 0.3%, while the S&P 500 advanced 0.4%, closing just shy of its record close from Friday. The tech-heavy Nasdaq jumped 1.5%.

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Major indexes posted quarterly gains, with the Dow up 7.8%, the S&P 500 up 5.8% and the Nasdaq up 2.8%. The small-cap Russell 2000 jumped more than 12%.

Read: The Dow just beat the Nasdaq by the widest margin in a month since 2002. Here’s how stocks tend to perform afterward

What’s driving the market?

President Joe Biden late Wednesday afternoon delivered a speech detailing his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan. The package is offset by tax hikes, including a rise in the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%, an increase in the global minimum tax on U.S. multinational companies, the establishment of what’s called a 15% minimum tax on book income, the elimination of tax preferences for fossil fuels and an increase in enforcement on corporations.

While tech shares rose Thursday, more cyclically sensitive stocks outpaced tech and other growth stocks in the first quarter as investors reacted to aggressive fiscal stimulus efforts that have fueled expectations for a near-term boom in economic growth and the potential for a sharp rise in inflationary pressures.

Video: Fed probably won’t allow rates to move much higher, says strategist (CNBC)

Fed probably won’t allow rates to move much higher, says strategist
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Although the infrastructure plan “is good news for the economy and it seems to be a supportive development for equities, it would be interesting to wait and see whether this will revive fears of an overheating economy,” said Charalambos Pissouros, senior market analyst at JFD Group, in a note.

“If so, this could lift U.S. Treasury yields higher and perhaps weigh again on equities,” he said, but added that a major selloff appeared unlikely given the Federal Reserve’s assurances on not seeking to pull back on its accommodative monetary policies.

Investors will be keeping a close eye on developments on the tax front, analysts said. “The larger impact to markets will be whether or not the corporate tax rate is raised to 28% — or somewhere in between there and the current 21% level — and whether or not a global minimum tax on corporations can be established,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for the Independent Advisor Alliance, in emailed comments.

“It’s likely that the stock market can withstand a hike in the corporate tax rate to 25%, but unclear how much room there is above that if stocks are going to keep moving higher between now and year-end,” he said.

On the U.S. labor market front, initial jobless claims jumped 61,000 to 719,000 in the week ended March 27, the U.S. Labor Department reported. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast new claims would fall to a seasonally adjusted 675,000.

“With the recent extension of unemployment benefits and with the added benefit of $300 per week, it is tough to gauge the friction within the labor market,” wrote Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, in a research note. “Friction being the desire of some to file and collect instead of finding a job alongside those who really want a job,” he wrote.

However, some economists are betting that claims and overall employment will fall again soon as the economy speeds up, governments loosen restrictions and companies seek to hire more workers.

The data come ahead of Friday’s eagerly awaited March jobs report, which could show that the U.S. added a million or more jobs based on some optimistic estimates.

Meanwhile, Treasury yields, which rose sharply over the first quarter, have been calm this week. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was down 1.2 basis points at 1.72%.

Looking ahead, the IHS Markit U.S. manufacturing purchasing managers index for March is set for release at 9:45 a.m. Eastern, followed by the more closely followed manufacturing index from the Institute for Supply Management. The PMI reading is expected to rise to 59.2 from 59.0 in February, while the ISM gauge is forecast to climb to 61.7% from 60.8%. For both gauges, a reading above 50 indicates growth in activity.

February construction-spending data is due for release at 10 a.m.

Which companies are in focus?

  • Shares of Micron Technology Inc. were up 6% after the Boise, Idaho-based chip maker’s earnings and outlook topped Wall Street estimates.
  • Separately, Micron and Western Digital Corp.  are each exploring a potential deal for Kioxia Holdings Corp. that could value the Japanese semiconductor company at around $30 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported. Western Digital shares were up more than 6%.
  • Dave & Buster’s Entertainment Inc. late Wednesday said its fourth quarter was “severely impacted” by the pandemic but swung to a narrower-than-expected quarterly loss and reported sales that came in above expectations. Shares fell 2.6%.
  • Johnson & Johnson Inc. on Wednesday acknowledged a batch of its COVID-19 vaccine produced by one of its manufacturing partners “did not meet quality standards,” and said it would provide more experts to oversee production. Johnson & Johnson shares were down 0.8%.
  • Frontier Group Holdings Inc. the parent of low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines, said its initial public offering priced at $19 a share, the low end of a $19 to $21 price range.
  • Residential real-estate brokerage Compass priced its initial public offering at $18, the low end of an already reduced range. Compass had cut its price range to an $18-$19 range from $23 to $26, and cut the number of shares on offer to 25 million from 36 million.
  • Movie chain and meme stock AMC Entertainment Holdings execs said that they would offer 500 million share offering. Shares were down 2.4% early Thursday.
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