U.S. stock benchmarks traded higher Thursday, with the S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq touching fresh record territory, as jobless benefit claims data showed continued slight improvement in the labor market ahead of Friday’s August employment report.
How are stocks trading?
The Dow Jones Industrial Average
was trading 148 points, or 0.4%, higher at 35,459.
The S&P 500
was gaining 17 points, or 0.4%, to reach 4,541, following an intraday all-time high at 4,545.85.
Nasdaq Composite Index
trades 59 points, or 0.4%, higher at 15,368, after setting an intraday record at 15,380.07.
What’s driving markets?
Stocks gained altitude on Thursday after weekly initial jobless benefit claims dropped by 14,000 to 340,000 in the week ended Aug. 28, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The upbeat action comes ahead of Friday’s August employment report, which will give markets their next chance to guess when — and by how much — the U.S. Federal Reserve will begin slowing, or tapering, its program of $120 billion in monthly bond purchases.
“The jobs report is going to be big; it’s always big,” said Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth Management, in a phone interview, adding that a weak payroll report could potentially delay tapering of the central bank’s large-scale purchases, but that’s not the only thing on investors’ minds.
“We know the Fed is going to taper. There’s no doubt about it,” Pavlik said. “What we don’t know is by how much. That’s the question.”
Oxford Economics’ economists Nancy Vanden Houten and Gregor Daco said they expect jobless claims to continue improving, but will be watching to see if businesses and workers have become more cautious due to the spread of the coronavirus from the delta variant, in a research note.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has signaled that the central bank would be watching employment data as it mulls the end of its pandemic-era measures to add liquidity to markets.
On Wednesday, weak numbers from payroll provider ADP’s private-sector employment report and the Institute for Supply Management’s measure of factory jobs underscored the room the U.S. economy still has to grow in terms of employment.
“Not a great indicator for Friday’s nonfarm payrolls and this would potentially give the Fed more rope to delay the taper,” said Neil Wilson, an analyst at Markets.com, in a daily research note.
“If data keeps getting worse, or less good, rather, then you can see the FOMC start to voice concerns at the [September] meeting and we could be in a position where the US central bank actually doesn’t taper asset purchases this year,” Wilson wrote.
Beyond the Fed, investors were also looking past the economic devastation tied to Hurricane Ida, pegged as the most expensive ever, which made landfall in Louisiana over the weekend, before triggering a state of emergency in New York City and New Jersey early Thursday due to flooding, while also threatening New England with more tornadoes.
“I think there’s still some trepidation about what September and October hold,” Pavlik said. “September often is a very hard month for the stock market, and I think that’s on the back of peoples’ minds.”
Should a correction hit stocks, Pavlik thinks investors will buy, since many have been “waiting for bargains,” similar to how shoppers wait for Labor Day and the Thanksgiving holiday sales before buying a new refrigerator or other large appliances.
In economic data, U.S. factory orders rose 0.4% in July, as manufacturers worked to pump out more goods to keep up with high demand. Economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.3% increase.
U.S. productivity also rose at a revised 2.1% annual pace in the second quarter, a bit lower than the government’s previously reported 2.3% rise from April to June, while a new report showed the U.S. international trade deficit falling from a record high, notching a decline of 4.3% in July to $70.1 billion.
Which companies are in focus
Shares of Toro Co. TTC rose 1.5% Thursday, after the lawn care equipment company reported fiscal third-quarter profit and sales that rose above expectations, as strength in the residential business helped offset a miss in professional, and raised its full-year outlook as strong demand was expected to offset continued supply chain, inflation and labor pressures.
Shares of Nikola Corp. NKLA ran up 2.2% Thursday, after the electric commercial truck maker announced agreements with the Germany-based Bosch Group of companies for Nikola Class 7 and Class 8 fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).
Manulife Financial Corp. MFC said Thursday its Hancock Natural Resource Group unit closed its acquisition of 300,000 acres of pine timberland on behalf of the Swedish pension system fund AP3.
Shares of American Eagle Outfitters Inc. AEO tumbled 8% toward a more than five-month low, after the fashion apparel and accessories retailer reported fiscal second-quarter profit that beat expectations but revenue that rose to a record but came up shy of forecasts.
Shares of Mastercraft Boat Holdings Inc. MCFT was flat Thursday, after the recreational powerboat company swung to a fiscal fourth-quarter profit that was well above expectations, as sales tripled to a record, and provided an upbeat full-year outlook.
Baxter International Inc. BAX said Thursday it has entered an agreement to acquire fellow medical technology company Hill-Rom Holdings Inc. for $156 a share, in a deal with an enterprise value of about $12.4 billion.
Shares of Hormel Foods Corp. HRL sank 4.7% Thursday, after the branded foods company, which brands include Planters, Skippy and Spam, reported fiscal third-quarter profit that matched expectations, while record revenue beat, but cut its full-year earnings guidance, as the company managed through inflationary pressure and labor availability challenges.
Facebook‘s FB WhatsApp was fined €225 million ($267 million) by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission for breaking data protection rules.
Shares of Signet Jewelers Ltd. SIG shot up 6.6% toward the highest price seen during regular-sessions hours since January 2017, after the diamond jewelry retailer swung to a fiscal second-quarter profit that was more than double what was expected, as revenue also beat forecasts, and raised its full-year outlook.
How are other assets faring?
The 10-year Treasury note yields
was around 1.29%, versus 1.301% on Wednesday.
In Europe, London’s FTSE 100
was up 0.1%, while the pan-European Stoxx 600
rose 0.3%; in Paris, the CAC 40
increased 0.1% while Frankfurt’s DAX
moved 0.1% into the green
Jack Denton contributed reporting