Wall Street rises ahead of updates on U.S. shoppers

NEW YORK — Wall Street ticked higher May 15 ahead of reports that will show how much a slowing economy is hurting what’s prevented a recession so far: solid spending by U.S. households.

The S&P 500 rose 0.3 percent, the latest gain in what’s been a listless weekslong run for the market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.1 percent, and the Nasdaq composite climbed 0.7 percent.

Some of the sharper moves came from companies announcing takeovers of rivals, including a 9.1 percent drop for energy company Oneok after it said it’s buying Magellan Midstream Partners, which jumped 13 percent. But the larger market was relatively quiet as several concerns continue to drag on Wall Street.

Chief among them is the fear of a recession hitting later this year, in large part because of high interest rates meant to knock down inflation. But concerns are also rising about cracks in the U.S. banking system and the U.S. government’s inching toward a possible default on its debt as soon as June 1, which economists warn could be catastrophic.

So far, a resilient job market has helped U.S. households keep up their spending despite all the pressures. That in turn has offered a powerful pillar to prop up the economy. On May 16, the government will show how much sales at retailers across the country grew last month.

Several big retailers will also show how much profit they made individually during the first three months of the year, including Home Depot on Tuesday, Target on Wednesday and Walmart on Thursday.

They’re among the few companies left who have yet to report their results for the start of the year. The majority of companies in the S&P 500 have topped expectations so far, though the bar was set particularly low for them coming in.

S&P 500 companies are still on track to report a drop of 2.5 percent in earnings per share from a year earlier. That would be the second straight quarter they’ve seen profit drop, according to FactSet.

“These are backward-looking numbers, so it’s something we take with some value, but we’re more interested in what they’re saying going forward,” said Megan Horneman, chief investment officer at Verdence Capital Advisors.

For that, Horneman said she’s been hearing many CEOs talk about pressures on profitability and worries about a weakening economy.

“We still think a recession is likely at some point this year,” she said, pointing to the latest discouraging report about factory activity on Monday. A survey of manufacturers in New York state plunged by much more than economists expected.

“It was pretty dismal, to say the least,” Horneman said.

As earnings reports slide out of the spotlight, the U.S. government’s debt-ceiling negotiations are shoving in. The federal government is risking its first-ever default if Congress doesn’t raise the credit limit set for federal borrowing.

Most of Wall Street expects Democrats and Republicans to come to a deal, simply because the alternative would be so disastrous for both sides. U.S. Treasurys form the bedrock of the global financial system because they’re seen as the safest possible investment on the planet.

But one worry is that politicians may not feel much urgency to reach an agreement until financial markets shake sharply to convince them of the importance.

“A debt default may not be the most likely scenario, but any prolonged debate or unexpected development has the potential to trigger higher volatility,” said Chris Larkin, managing director, trading and investing, at E-Trade from Morgan Stanley.

In the bond market, Treasury yields rose after briefly dipping during the morning. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which helps set rates for mortgages and other loans climbed to 3.49 percent. The two-year Treasury yield, which more closely tracks expectations for the Fed, held steady at 3.99 percent.

High interest rates have meant particular pain for some smaller- and mid-sized banks. Customers are leaving to park their deposits in money-market funds and other options paying higher yields. High rates are meanwhile knocking down the value of investments that banks made when rates were lower.

The pressures have already caused three high-profile bank failures since March, and Wall Street has been on the hunt for other potential weak links.

Several recovered a bit Monday after dropping sharply last week. PacWest Bancorp jumped 17.6 percent after losing 21 percent last week, for example.