Stocks tick higher on Wall Street to add to their recent run

The stock market has found some footing over the last week after a roller-coaster start to the year where a swift rise gave way to a sharp tumble

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, US, on March 6, 2023.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, US, on March 6, 2023.BRENDAN MCDERMID (REUTERS)

Stocks are ticking higher Monday to add a bit more to Wall Street’s newfound strength. The S&P 500 was 0.6% higher in morning trading after coming off its first winning week in the last four. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 118 points, or 0.4%, at 33,509, as of 10.30 am Eastern time, while the Nasdaq composite was 0.9% higher.

The stock market has found some footing over the last week after a roller-coaster start to the year where a swift rise gave way to a sharp tumble. At the center of it all has been high inflation and expectations for what the Federal Reserve will do about it.

Early in the year, stocks rallied, and bond yields eased as hopes rose that cooling inflation would get the Fed to take it easier on its hikes to interest rates. Then, stronger-than-expected reports on the economy raised worries that inflation is not cooling as smoothly as hoped.

That forced Wall Street to raise its forecasts for how high the Fed will take interest rates. Higher rates can drive down inflation, but they also can create a recession and hurt prices for stocks and other investments.

On Monday, Treasury yields eased a bit to take some pressure off the stock market. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 3.94% after topping 4% last week and reaching its highest level since November. It helps set rates for mortgages and other loans that are central to the economy’s strength.

Expectations for inflation globally eased a bit after China said it’s targeting economic growth of about 5% as it tries to rebuild business activity following the end of anti-virus controls that kept millions of people at home. That came in below some forecasts, which could mean less upward pressure on inflation.

Oil prices eased, with a barrel of US crude dipping 0.6% to $79.23. A barrel of Brent crude, the international standard, fell 0.8% to $85.18.

The weakness sent stocks of energy producers to some of the biggest losses in the S&P 500. They were down 0.7% for the worst performance among the 11 sectors that make up the index. Diamondback Energy fell 2%, and Schlumberger slipped 1.3%.

On the winning side were technology stocks. They tend to be some of the biggest beneficiaries of lower interest rates, which can boost demand by investors for high-growth companies.

Apple rose 2.6%, and Microsoft gained 1.4% to be the two biggest forces lifting the S&P 500.

More action may be ahead later this week, with several potentially market-moving events on the calendar.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell will testify before Congress for two days, beginning on Tuesday. Other Fed officials’ comments recently have led to big swings in markets, as traders try to get ahead of the next moves by the Fed.

On Friday will come what’s likely to be a big clue about the Fed’s next steps. That’s when the government will release its latest monthly jobs report. If the reading it stronger than expected, particularly if it causes big gains in wages, it could shake Wall Street and force it to raise rate expectations even higher.

The Fed has been trying to cool the job market to remove pressure on inflation, which remains far above its 2% target, and blowout figures could cause it to get more aggressive about rates.

The Fed’s next move on rates will arrive later this month. Besides Friday’s jobs report, upcoming releases on inflation across the economy will likely also carry a lot of weight on the decision.

The Fed has pulled its key overnight rate to a range of 4.50% to 4.75%, up from virtually zero at the start of last year, in its fastest set of hikes in decades. Last month, it dialed down the size of its increases and highlighted progress being made in the battle to get inflation lower.

It also earlier suggested just two more increases to rates may be on the way. But that was before last month’s string of hotter-than-expected data on inflation and other measures of the economy. Wall Street now is bracing for at least three more hikes and the possibility the Fed could also ratchet the size of the increases back up.

Stock markets abroad were mostly higher.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 1.1%, South Korea’s Kospi gained 1.3% and stocks in Shanghai slipped 0.2%. France’s CAC 40 rose 0.4%, Germany’s DAX returned 0.6% and London’s FTSE 100 slipped 0.3%.

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