Wall Street little changed after inflation, labor market data

US stock market: US stocks closed little changed on Thursday as news of hotter-than-expected inflation and signs of labor market strength dampened hopes for early interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve this year, but a fall in Treasury yields kept declines in check.

In a choppy session, equities opened higher and the benchmark S&P 500 (.SPX) briefly surpassed its record closing high of 4,796.56, hit in January 2022, before erasing initial gains.

After ending 2023 with a strong rally, stocks have struggled to find upward momentum, with the S&P 500 up only 0.21 per cent on the year, as mixed economic data and Fed officials' comments have led investors to scale back expectations for the timing and size of any rate cuts from the US central bank this year.

The US Labor Department reported that consumer prices rose more than expected in December, with Americans paying more for shelter and healthcare. A separate report showed the number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to 202,000.

"They're just understanding it for what it was. The thing that pushed it up was primarily shelter," said Scott Ladner, chief investment officer at Horizon Investments in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"Nobody believes that is going to be a persistent go-forward problem apart from inflation, so the thing that drove the 'hot print' was something that everybody's kind of discounting."

Comments from some Fed officials have pushed back on potential rate cuts. On Thursday, Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester and Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin said consumer price data for December did little to assure them inflation is now on a steady track back to the central bank's 2 per cent target, with more information needed before any decision to begin reducing rates.

At 4:11 p.m. the Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) rose 15.29 points, or 0.04 per cent, to 37,711.02. The S&P 500 (.SPX) lost 3.21 points, or 0.07 per cent, at 4,780.24 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) gained just 0.54 points, at 14,970.19.

A fall in Treasury yields helped keep losses for equities in check, after an auction of $21 billion in 30-year bonds was well received.

"People are still worried about supply in the Treasury market. ... Is there going to be sufficient demand to soak that all up? And especially at the long end, the real fear is at the long end and the auction today, it was just perfect," said Ladner.

Microsoft (MSFT.O) briefly overtook Apple (AAPL.O) as the world's most valuable company, after the iPhone maker's shares dropped nearly 4 per cent since the year began due to concerns over falling demand. Microsoft's shares rose 0.49 per cent, while Apple shed 0.32 per cent.

Nearly all of the S&P 500's 11 major sectors declined, with only energy (.SPNY) and technology (.SPLRCT) in positive territory, up 0.16 per cent and 0.44 per cent, respectively.

Crypto stocks reversed early gains and tumbled, with names such as Coinbase (COIN.O) off 6.7 per cent, Bitfarms down 13.33 per cent and Riot Platforms (RIOT.O) 15.82 per cent lower. The US securities regulator approved the first US-listed exchange-traded funds (ETF) to track spot bitcoin late on Wednesday.

Citigroup (C.N) fell 1.77 per cent after a filing showed the lender booked about $3.8 billion in combined charges and reserves that will erode its fourth-quarter earnings, due to be reported on Friday.

Other banks including fell, with JPMorgan Chase (JPM.N), down 0.42 per cent, Bank of America (BAC.N), down 1.33 per cent and Wells Fargo (WFC.N) off 0.08 per cent ahead of their earnings reports on Friday.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.3-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.8-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 40 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 109 new highs and 138 new lows.

Volume on US exchanges was 11.41 billion shares, compared with the 12.27 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

US stock market | Wall Street little changed after inflation, labor market data

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US stock market: US stocks closed little changed on Thursday. Image: Reuters
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