S&P 500 again flirts with record high, closing just below

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NEW YORK (AP) — The S&P 500 again crossed above its record high but closed just below that level for the second day in a row. The index fell 0.2% Thursday after another day of wobbly, back-and-forth trading. Earlier, it briefly crossed above 3,386.15. That’s the record closing level it set in February, before investors appreciated how much devastation the coronavirus pandemic would cause the global economy. 

Treasury yields were higher following an auction of 30-year bonds and after a report showed that 963,000 U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week. It’s an incredibly high number, but still the lowest tally since March.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 106 points, or 0.4%, at 27,870, as of 2:30 p.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was up 0.3%.

Treasury yields were rising following an auction of 30-year bonds and after a report showed that 963,000 U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week. It’s an incredibly high number of layoffs, but it’s also the first time the tally has dropped below 1 million since March, before widespread business lockdowns caused a tsunami of layoffs.

Economists said the drop in jobless claims, which was better than the market was expecting, is an encouraging step. But they also cautioned that it could be more of an outlier than a trend, and more data reports are needed to confirm it.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury was sitting at 0.71% in afternoon trading. It was at 0.57% just on Monday.

Wall Street has erased almost all of the nearly 34% drop the S&P 500 suffered from late February into March, even though the economy is still hobbled despite some recent improvements.

Massive efforts to support the economy by the Federal Reserve and U.S. government helped trigger the rally, and investors are now waiting for Congress and the White House to deliver another round of aid after unemployment benefits and other measures in the last tranche expired.

Democrats and Republicans are still far apart, but hope remains on Wall Street that they’ll reach a deal on stimulus that investors say is crucially needed.

“The news out of D.C. has really been shrugged off by the market,” said Jason Draho, head of asset allocation for the Americas at UBS Global Wealth Management.

He said investors have also gained more confidence about a broader economic recovery as data reports continue to show steady improvements.

“There’s still a lot of weakness, but various parts of the data are showing improvement,” he said. “There’s a moderation, but not a reversal.”

Through it all is also the power of the Fed’s massive actions, which continue to support the market. The central bank has slashed short-term interest rates to a record low at nearly zero and has plunged into far-reaching corners of the bond market to keep lending running smoothly.

“It’s a crazy message to deliver to clients that the economy will struggle for at least the next couple of quarters while also being relatively bullish on corporate bonds as well as the stock market,” said Bryce Doty, senior portfolio manager at Sit Fixed Income Advisors.

Most stocks in the S&P 500 and across Wall Street were weaker on Thursday. Energy producers and financial stocks had some of the market’s sharpest losses, but resilience for Apple and several other Big Tech stocks helped to support the market.

Cisco slumped 11.7% for the biggest loss in the S&P 500, even though it reported better results for its latest quarter than Wall Street expected. It gave a forecast for the current quarter that fell short of analysts’ forecasts

In Asian stock markets, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 jumped 1.8%, South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.2% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.1%. Stocks in Shanghai were virtually flat.

In European markets, Germany’s DAX lost 0.5%, and France’s CAC 40 fell 0.6%. The FTSE 100 in London dropped 1.5%.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 1% to settle at $42.24 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, was down 1.1% at $44.91 per barrel.

Gold for delivery in December rose $21.40 to settle at $1,970.40 per ounce.