Technology, energy stocks drive S&P 500 to record high

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 hit a record high on Thursday, boosted by gains in heavyweight technology and energy companies, as well as on hopes that the Federal Reserve will maintain an accommodative policy amid signs that economic recovery was slowing.

FILE PHOTO: People are seen on Wall Street outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

The energy sector rose 2.9% to lead early gains with oil majors Exxon Mobil, Chevron Corp, Schlumberger NV and Occidental Petroleum gaining between 2.2% and 5.1% as they tracked higher crude prices. [O/R]

Netflix Inc jumped 1.9% to hit a record high, while Apple Inc, Inc and Microsoft gained between 0.2% and 0.8%, driving the tech-heavy Nasdaq to a life high.

On the data front, the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell last week, although the focus will be on the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report on Friday, which could set the stage for the Fed’s policy meeting later this month.

“With jobless claims hitting a pandemic low, there’s definitely some optimism as we look ahead to the full jobs picture tomorrow,” said Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy at E*TRADE Financial.

“But keep in mind there’s no shortage of headwinds when it comes to the labor market — with pockets of resurging COVID cases impacting reopenings and employees heading back to work. And with stimulus drying up, there’s some reasoning behind the drop off in claims.”

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq have consistently hit record highs over the past few weeks as a solid corporate earnings season and hopes of continued central bank support underpinned confidence as data showed the post-pandemic U.S. economic growth was beginning to slow.

Still, strategists said those highs could be challenged as the rebound in corporate profits loses its edge and the pressure builds on the Fed to taper its massive stimulus.

A Reuters poll last month showed the S&P 500 is likely to end 2021 at 4,500 points, slightly lower than current levels.

At 10:24 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 116.52 points, or 0.33%, at 35,429.05, the S&P 500 was up 14.66 points, or 0.32%, at 4,538.75, and the Nasdaq Composite was up 30.13 points, or 0.20%, at 15,339.52.

A set of merger deals also helped sentiment. Quanta Services Inc rose 9.8% to hit a record high after it said it will buy privately held Blattner Holding Company in a deal valued at about $2.7 billion.

Medtech firm Baxter International added 4.4% after saying that it would buy rival Hill-Rom Holdings Inc for roughly $10.5 billion. Hill-Rom jumped 4.4%.

Online pet supplies store Chewy dropped 7.6% after it reported a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss and missed Wall Street revenue estimates.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.97-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.89-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 72 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 101 new highs and seven new lows.

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