Wall Street Opening Higher, Led by Health Care, Utilities

Trader Gregory Rowe works on the trading floor, March 29. (Nicole Pereira/New York Stock Exchange via AP)

Shares are opening slightly higher on Wall Street, following gains in Europe and Asia overnight. The S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent at the start of trading, after inching to a new record high a day earlier thanks to gains by some Big Tech stocks. Utilities and health care stocks led the index early Thursday, but the index’s rise was held back by big drops in energy and banking stocks. Markets have been steadying in recent days as investors become cautiously optimistic about the economic recovery. Bond yields slipped.

Trading has been subdued this week as many countries grapple with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as new infections appear to be outpacing inoculations in many places.

Investors are showing cautious optimism about the economic recovery, especially in the U.S., where vaccine distribution has been ramping up and President Joe Biden has bumped up his deadline for states to make doses available to all adults by April 19.

On Wednesday, the benchmark S&P 500 inched up 0.1% to 4,079.95. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.1% to 33,446.26. The Nasdaq composite slipped 0.1% to 13,688.84. The S&P 500 and Dow each set record highs on Monday.

Small company stocks, which have been outgaining the broader market this year, took the brunt of the selling. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 1.6%, to 2,223.05. The index is up 12.6% so far this year, while the S&P 500, which tracks large companies, is up 8.6%.

Analysts expect the economy to recover this year, but they also anticipate the market remain choppy as investors shift money to companies and industries that stand to benefit as the pandemic eases. A proposal to invest heavily in major infrastructure, from roads and ports to broadband, education and training could hasten that rebound.

Shares were little changed Wednesday following the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting on interest rate policy.

The minutes revealed that Fed officials were encouraged last month by evidence the U.S. economy was picking up, but they showed no sign of moving closer to ending their bond purchases or lifting their benchmark short-term interest rate from nearly zero.

Investors were reassured by the Fed’s “very optimistic and balanced tone of more growth and transitory inflation,” Stephen Innes of Axi said in a commentary.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury was steady at 1.65%.

In other trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil lost 34 cents to $59.43 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It picked up 44 cents to $59.77 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, the international standard for pricing, gave up 21 cents to $62.95 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar slipped to 109.46 Japanese yen from 109.85 yen. The euro rose to $1.1881 from $1.1868.

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