The major U.S. stock indexes finished mixed on Wednesday as investors seemed to be distracted by the impeachment hearings in Congress ahead of Thursday’s speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and the start of earnings season on Friday. Investors are also anticipating a speech by President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday night where he is expected to announce his COVID-19 economic relief plan.
In the cash market on Wednesday, the benchmark S&P 500 Index settled at 3809.84, up 8.65 or +0.26%, the blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at 31060.47, up 8.22 or +0.03% and the tech-based NASDAQ Composite closed at 13128.95, up 56.52 or +0.51%.
Sectors in Focus
Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors gained ground. The S&P growth index, climbed 0.5% to outperform the value index, which fell 0.05%.
Utilities rose 1.9% and real estate advanced 1.4%, leading the percentage gains, while the biggest losers were the more economically sensitive sectors such as materials and industrials, which fell about 1%.
Stocks on the Move
Intel Corp was the biggest percentage gainer in the S&P, advancing 7% after the chipmaker said it would replace its Chief Executive Officer Bob Swan with VMware Inc CEO Pat Gelsinger next month. Shares of VMware fell 6.8% after the Intel news.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc’s shares climbed 1.2% after the U.S. government said it would buy 1.25 million additional doses of its COVID-19 antibody cocktail for about $2.63 billion.
Earnings Move to the Forefront
Earnings reports from big U.S. banks including JPMorgan and Citigroup were also on investors’ minds as they will mark the unofficial start to the fourth-quarter earnings season on Friday.
Earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to have dropped 9.8% year-over-year in the final quarter of 2020, according to IBES data from Refinitiv, but they are expected to rebound in 2021, with a gain of 16.4% projected for the first quarter.
US Economic Reports
U.S. consumer prices increased in December, with households paying more for gasoline, though underlying inflation remained tame as the economy battled a raging COVID-19 pandemic, which has weighed on the labor market and the services industry.
U.S. economic activity increased modestly in recent weeks and a growing number of the Federal Reserve’s districts saw a drop in employment as a surge in coronavirus cases led to more shutdowns of businesses, the U.S. central bank’s Beige Book showed on Wednesday.
“Although the prospect of COVID-19 vaccines has bolstered business optimism for 2021 growth, this has been tempered by concern over the recent virus resurgence and the implications for near-term business conditions,” the Fed noted in the report.
The report was the first since last May to report outright declines in activity in some of the Fed’s districts.