Stocks Rise as Choppy Week on Wall Street Nears End

10/16/2020 | 11:25am

By Joe Wallace

U.S. stocks rose Friday as retail sales data beat expectations, putting major indexes on pace to end to a volatile week with modest gains.

The S&P 500 added 0.4%, turning a corner after three days of declines. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 0.7%, or about 190 points, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite gained 0.5%.

Data showed U.S. retail sales rose for a fifth month in a row in September as consumers spent in preparation for further months of working and studying from home. Sales climbed 1.9%, the Commerce Department said, faster than the 0.7% analysts were expecting.

"They're really strong numbers," said Jane Foley, head of foreign-exchange strategy at Rabobank. Still, "there is a sense this could be the last hurrah." Consumer-spending growth is likely to slow in the coming months due to growing weakness in the labor market and delays to a fresh round of economic relief, she said.

Stocks have been buffeted in recent days by spikes in coronavirus infection levels and uncertainty around the likelihood of a second batch of economic stimulus being delivered before Election Day. Investors say a new round of relief is needed to keep the U.S. economy in recovery mode.

"There are some pretty significant concerns that we're going to see a ramp-up in infections in the U.S.," said Ronald Temple, head of U.S. equity at Lazard Asset Management. "I am worried that could be a headwind between now and year-end."

More than half a dozen states reported record numbers of new coronavirus cases Thursday, pushing the U.S.'s single-day total above 60,000 for the first time in over two months. Midwestern states including Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan were particularly hard hit.

White House and Democratic negotiators agreed Thursday to include a national coronavirus-testing strategy in relief legislation. Many Republican lawmakers are wary of approving another bill approaching $2 trillion in size, but President Trump on Thursday insisted they will back him despite their current misgivings.

"They might get something together, but it's really surprising that it hasn't happened yet," said Jonas Goltermann, senior markets economist at Capital Economics.

Another factor weighing on stocks is concern about how quickly drugmakers will be able to come to market with an immunization shot, Mr. Goltermann added, pointing to the pause in trials of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine. "That's arguably even more important than the fiscal stimulus."

Pfizer said it could be ready to apply for emergency-use authorization of its vaccine by late November, the first time a leading Western vaccine developer provided such a specific timeline. Shares in the pharmaceutical giant rose 1.9%.

Consumer spending may falter over the winter if Washington doesn't deliver a new round of stimulus, according to Mr. Temple. "The longer this persists without that extra unemployment benefit the more likely we are to see evictions, mortgage delinquencies and other kinds of credit defaults," he said.

Other data indicate the economy is already losing momentum. New applications for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, last week rose to the highest level since late August.

As earnings season continues, J.B. Hunt Transport Services shares dropped 4.6% after profits fell short of expectations in the third quarter. Citizens Financial Group shares fell 3.9% after the bank said provisions for credit losses dragged down earnings.

In overseas markets, European stocks recouped some recent losses, pushing the Stoxx Europe 600 up 0.9%. Asian markets were mixed by the close of trading, with China's Shanghai Composite Index ticking up 0.1% and Japan's Nikkei 225 losing 0.4%.

The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury ticked down to 0.721%, from 0.730% Thursday.

Karen Langley contributed to this article.

Write to Joe Wallace at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

10-16-20 1024ET

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