U.S. stocks mostly higher after strong earnings; Dow lags behind

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U.S. stocks traded mostly higher in choppy trade Thursday, buoyed by upbeat earnings from chip company Nvidia Inc. and major retailers, while concerns about a seasonal rise in COVID-19 cases were seen capping gains.

It wasn’t all good news on the earnings front, however, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average weighed down by a steep losses for Cisco Systems Inc.

What are major indexes doing?
  • The Dow DJIA, -0.21% edged down 40.31 points, or 0.1%, to 35,890.74.
  • The S&P 500 SPX, +0.19% rose 15.36 points, or 0.3%, to 4,704.03.
  • The Nasdaq Composite COMP, +0.21% was up 72.61 points, or 0.5%, at 15,994.18.

On Wednesday, the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite all lost ground in a subdued trading session. The S&P 500 remained just 0.3% away from its record close, with the Nasdaq Composite just 0.4% its all-time high finish.

What’s driving markets?

Stocks drifted between small gains and losses in morning trade, firming up toward midday. Analysts said concerns over a renewed rise in COVID-19 cases in Europe were possibly weighing on the market.

Germany has seen the highest number of daily cases seen over the course of the pandemic, while other countries have weighed renewed lockdown measures. U.S. cases continue to average more than 88,000 a day, and more than 48,000 people were hospitalized. Michigan and Minnesota lead the U.S. by new cases as measured on a per capita basis. 

Stocks have noticed, said Tom Essaye, founder of Sevens Report Research, in a note, with cruise line names and hotel companies suffering modest declines in recent sessions.

Essaye wrote that he doubted a rise in cases would result in renewed U.S. lockdowns, but if cases continue to rise, “we could see temporary headwinds on the ‘Get Out and Spend’ name such as cruise lines, theme parks, hotels and live-event companies.”

A strong quarter from graphics chip maker Nvidia Corp. NVDA, +8.54%, which reported a 50% jump in revenue late Wednesday, helped to buoy sentiment. Shares jumped 11%.

Corporate earnings have beaten Wall Street estimates in the third quarter, as strong demand has helped to offset the pressure from supply-chain disruptions.

In U.S. economic data, new filings for jobless benefits slipped by 1,000 to 268,000 in the seven days ended Nov. 13, the government said. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had estimated initial jobless claims would total a seasonally adjusted 260,000.

See: Why the stock market could hit a peak Friday, before ‘minor’ dip Thanksgiving week

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank’s manufacturing index jumped in November to 39 from 23.8. While the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index jumped 0.9% in October and pointed toward a pickup in growth toward the end of 2021.

New York Federal Reserve President John Williams on Wednesday defended the central bank’s new inflation-targeting strategy from critics who say it is holding the central bank from taking obvious moves to bring cool prices.

Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said late Wednesday that the disruptions have lasted longer than he anticipated, though he still expects the central bank to end its bond-buying program in the middle of 2022 as currently planned.

Markets will be highly tuned into any signals on who President Joe Biden will pick to chair the Fed. Biden on Tuesday said a decision would come “in about four days.” The decision is widely seen as coming down to a choice between renominating Chairman Jerome Powell or choosing Fed Gov. Lael Brainard.

Barron’s: Who Will Be the Next Fed Chair? Why Brainard Is Gaining on Powell.

“Stock markets have been resilient all year; they have looked through upside surprises in inflation, downside surprises in growth, and a dramatic change in central bank pricing,” said strategists at Barclays led by Ajay Rajadhyaksha. The Barclays strategists see limited upside to U.S. equities but also don’t expect a major selloff, as there’s significant downside hedging.

Read: Here’s what a 1970s inflation-fighting fiasco says about the battle against rising prices

Which companies are in focus?
What are other markets doing?
  • The yield on the 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y, 1.587% fell 2.9 basis points to 1.577%. Yields and debt prices move in opposite directions.
  • The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, -0.30%, a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, was down 0.2%.
  • Oil futures bounced higher, with the U.S. benchmark CL00, +0.80% up 0.7% at $78.09 a barrel, while gold futures GC00, -0.36% fell 0.3%.
  • The Stoxx Europe 600 SXXP, -0.46% fell 0.5%, while London’s FTSE 100 UKX, -0.48% was down 0.5%.
  • The Shanghai Composite SHCOMP, -0.47% fell 0.5%, while the Hang Seng Index HSI, -1.29% declined 1.3% and Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK, -0.30% was off 0.3%.