Photo by Associated Press
Wall Street ticks higher, led by tech and smaller stocksStory By AP
Regional News Published 03/31/2021 3:03PM
Technology companies are leading stock indexes mostly higher Wednesday as the market closed in on its fourth straight quarterly gain, despite a bumpy start to the year as interest rates surged.
The S&P 500 was up 0.7% and on track to end March 4.6% higher, its second monthly gain. The benchmark index was up around 6% through the first three months of the year, despite having posted a loss in January. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was essentially flat after shedding a modest gain.
Technology stocks powered much of Wednesday's rally, reflecting solid gains by Apple, Microsoft and Nvidia. Companies that rely on consumer spending also helped lift the market, outweighing a pullback in financial, energy and materials stocks.
Stocks were pushing higher ahead of a speech later in the day where President Joe Biden is expected to discuss his plan to spend $2 trillion on strengthening the nation's infrastructure, and how to pay for it. If the gain holds, it would be the first for the index since it set a record high at the end of last week.
The Dow slipped 16 points, or less than 0.1%, to 33,047 as of 3:43 p.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 1.9% higher.
Stocks of smaller companies were once again on track for a strong showing. The stocks have outpaced the broader market on rising expectations for the economy. The Russell 2000 index climbed 1.8%. It's up 13.2% for 2021 so far, nearly double the gain of the big stocks in the S&P 500.
Tech stocks and companies expected to deliver big growth in the future were helping to lead the way for the market. Apple climbed 2.2%, and Tesla rose 4.9%. It's a reprieve for the group, which led the market earlier in the pandemic but has since lost momentum amid a sharp rise in Treasury yields.
The 10-year Treasury yield inched up to 1.73%, though it remains close to its highest level since before the pandemic rocked markets a year ago. COVID-19 vaccinations and massive spending plans by Washington have raised expectations for supercharged economic growth and a possible rise in inflation, which has pushed yields higher.
In his speech in Pittsburgh later in the day, Biden is expected to give details about where he wants to steer federal dollars to rebuild roads, bridges and the electric grid. Such programs could mean gushers of revenue for everything from raw-material producers to electric-vehicle makers.
To help pay for it, though, businesses may be looking at higher corporate tax rates, which would pressure their profits. Some investors also worry that all the spending and borrowing by the U.S. government could eventually lead to even higher interest rates for the economy.
Investors will be closely watching for details on the infrastructure plan to get a better sense of future priorities, said Rob Haworth, senior investment strategy director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. Friday's government jobs report is also highly anticipated.
"The question for the market is, what's next?" said Rob Haworth, senior investment strategy director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. "March in particular has been a bit of a pause for the market to recalibrate."
The market's movements could be volatile through the day as investors close their books on the first quarter of the year. The S&P 500 is on pace to rise about 6% for the first three months of 2021, which would be its fourth straight quarter of gains following its lightning-quick plunge in early 2020 amid pandemic panic.
Within the index, the leaderboard of performance is virtually the mirror image of earlier in the pandemic. Energy producers, financial businesses and industrial companies are now leading the way, all climbing between 10% and 30% this quarter.
They've shot higher, along with smaller stocks, on expectations that a return to normalcy for the economy and Washington's huge spending will mean big jumps in profit later this year. It's a turnaround from earlier in the pandemic, when they plunged on uncertainty about when airplanes may be full again and burning jet fuel.
Stocks of companies that had been winners in the stay-at-home economy or that had been bid up on expectations for strong growth many years into the future, meanwhile, have lagged. Apple is down 7.7% for the quarter so far, for example, while American Airlines Group is up more than 50%.
App-based meal delivery service Deliveroo slumped 26% in its U.K. stock market debut. The weak showing came even after the stock was priced at the bottom of its potential range, reflecting investor wariness about whether Deliveroo could turn a profit as well as a growing backlash against "gig economy" companies and concerns over how they treat their workers.