Dow, S&P 500 book best day in 2 weeks ahead of Powell speech at Jackson Hole

U.S. stocks finished higher on Thursday, with all three indexes scoring back-to-back gains after a batch of strong economic data and as investors waited to hear Friday from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell at Jackson Hole.

How did stocks end?
  • S&P 500
    SPX,
    +1.41%

    rose 58.35 points, or 1.4%, to end at 4,199.12.

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average
    DJIA,
    +0.98%

    gained 322.55 points, or 1%, to close at 33,291.78.

  • Nasdaq Composite
    COMP,
    +1.67%

    advanced 207.74 points, or 1.7%, finish ing at 12,639.27.

  • It was the best day of gains for all three indexes on a percentage basis since Aug. 12, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

On Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.2%, the S&P 500 increased 0.3% and the Nasdaq Composite gained 0.4%.

What drove markets?

U.S. stocks ended near session highs on Thursday following revised readings on the performance of the U.S. and German economies for the second quarter, along with news of more fiscal stimulus measures out of China.

A revised reading on second-quarter gross domestic product showed the U.S. economy shrank by 0.6%, better than the 0.9% contraction from the original reading.

Eric Diton, president and managing director at the Wealth Alliance, said U.S. stocks had good reason to celebrate the latest reading on second-quarter GDP.

“The underlying data is not showing a recession, and that’s pretty ideal for this market because this market is praying for a soft landing,” Diton said.

Stocks contended with low trading volume intraday, which helped to exaggerate swings in the market. Wednesday’s session saw just 8.8 billion shares traded across the various Wall Street exchanges. That was the lowest volume so far this year and a decline of 26% compared with the daily average for 2022, according to Dow Jones data.

Market strategists blamed the low trading volume on seasonal factors, as well as the reluctance of some investors to make bold bets before Powell speaks on Friday at the Kansas City Fed’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

See: How stocks perform as central bankers gather each year at Jackson Hole

Jeff Bierman, chief market technician at TheoTrade, didn’t expect the market to reach a bottom until October, and anticipated a continued downtrend next month as September historically tends to be a harsh month for stocks.

“You’re turning into the corner of the market where it’s overbought, then you’re turning into that weak seasonality, then you’re turning into a Fed rate hike…” Bierman told MarketWatch on Thursday. Despite “little green shoots of data,” he expects the S&P 500 to potentially retest 3,600, after which time “it will give the market the impetus to go long and strong for a while.”

Investors will dissect Powell’s comments for clues about the direction of Fed policy, a factor that’s weighed heavily on markets of late. MarketWatch reported earlier this week that financial markets are expecting that Powell will signal the continued need for aggressive interest-rate hikes to combat inflation despite the risks to economic growth, while some market professionals warned investors should get used to aggressive interest-rate hikes.

“I don’t like the idea of Powell being ‘hawkish’ hawkish. I’d like to say he’s gonna be ‘gentle’ hawkish,” said Bierman via phone. “What he’s gonna try to telegraph is this: how many rate hikes do we need to see before we finally reach that pause level, or that pivot level — not a pivot towards cutting rates, but a pivot towards ‘we don’t need to raise rates anymore’.”

See: Opinion: The Federal Reserve’s Powell has a lot of explaining to do

The market got another taste of Fed speak on Thursday when Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker said he would like to see the Fed hike its benchmark rate target north of 3.4% then let it “sit for a while.”

In other economic news, the number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits last week fell to a one-month low of 243,000, indicating layoffs remain near record lows.

Investors also were contending with a mixed bag of earnings reports from a handful of tech companies released after Wednesday’s closing bell. Shares in Salesforce
CRM,
-3.39%

fell 3.4% while Snowflake
SNOW,
+23.07%

was rose 23.1% after its numbers and forecasts were well-received.

Stocks in focus
How did other assets do?
  • Oil futures fell Thursday, with West Texas Intermediate crude for October delivery 
    CLV22,
    +1.24%

     off $2.37, or 2.5%, to settle at $92.52 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. 

  • The yield on the 10-year Treasury 
    TMUBMUSD10Y,
    3.081%

     retreated 8.2 basis points to 3.023% from 3.105% on Wednesday. 

  • Gold futures 
    GCZ22,
    -0.53%

     for December delivery climbed $9.9 cents, or 0.6%, to end at $1,771.40 per ounce on Comex. The ICE Dollar index
    DXY,
    -0.15%

    fell 0.2% to 108.51.

  • Bitcoin
    BTCUSD,
    -1.01%

    declined 1% to $21,563.

  • Asia markets got an added lift from the latest stimulus in China. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng
    HSI,
    +1.01%

    rose 3.6%, and the Shanghai Composite
    SHCOMP,
    -0.31%

    climbed 1%.

  • In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600
    SXXP,
    -0.28%

    finished 0.3% higher, while the FTSE 100
    Z00,
    -0.11%

    ended 0.1% higher.

— Jamie Chisholm contributed to this article.

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