Stock market today: Wall Street clings to thin gains as rollercoaster week comes to a close

Trading on Wall Street was mixed early Friday as markets try to hold on to the thin gains made so far in what’s been an up-and-down week.

Futures for the S&P 500 gained 0.1% before the bell, while futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average ticked down 0.1%.

Although earnings season is winding down, there are still more sales and profit reports coming in, along with an assortment of economic reports that have been moving markets.

A mixed set of data on the economy included a report Thursday showing sales at U.S. retailers weakened by more in January from December than expected. It was a striking drop in spending by U.S. households, whose strength has helped keep the economy out of a recession, even with high interest rates. The upside for financial markets is that it could also remove some upward pressure on inflation.

A separate report said fewer U.S. workers applied for unemployment benefits last week than expected, the latest signal of a solid job market despite high-profile announcements of layoffs.

Altogether, the economic reports helped send Treasury yields lower in the bond market. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 4.24% from 4.27% late Wednesday.

Treasury yields have been swiveling. Stronger-than-expected reports on inflation, the job market and the overall economy have forced traders on Wall Street to delay their forecasts for when the Federal Reserve will begin cutting interest rates.

The Fed has already hiked its main interest rate to the highest level since 2001. The hope is that high rates will squeeze the economy just enough to get inflation down to a comfortable level without causing a recession.

Coming later Friday are the government’s report on inflation at the wholesale level and the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index.

Technology manufacturer Applied Materials was among the premarket gainers Friday, jumping more than 11% after posting better sales and profit than Wall Street was projecting.

Dropbox tumbled close to 11% in off-hours trading after the cloud storage company issued weak guidance for the first quarter, despite beating analysts’ fourth-quarter sales and profit targets.

Yelp, the the online business review site, fell more than 9% before the bell after it missed profit forecasts late Thursday.

Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index traded near a record high, 35 years after it peaked and then plunged with the collapse of Japan’s financial bubble.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 closed 0.9% higher, at 38,487.24. It has been hovering just below the record high of 38,915.87 that it set on Dec. 29, 1989, right before a plunge in share and property prices ushered in an era of slower, faltering growth. At its highest point Friday, it traded at 38,865.06.

Share prices have been pressing higher despite persisting signs of weakness in the Japanese economy, which fell into recession in the last quarter of 2023. Efforts to sustain growth at higher levels have had limited success, undermined by weak private investment and consumer spending.

Changes to rules regarding tax-free investment accounts have accounted for some of the runup in Japanese share prices. A weak yen has attracted bargain hunters, and stocks also have profited from investors shifting out of Chinese markets.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index jumped 2.5% to 16,339.96 and the Kospi in Seoul rose 1.3% to 2,648.76.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 climbed 0.7% to 7,658.30. Bangkok’s SET slipped 0.1% and the Sensex in India was up 0.6%.

Taiwan’s Taiex edged 0.2% lower a day after breaching a record high of 18,644.57 as major market mover TSMC, the world’s biggest computer chip maker, surged nearly 8%. That jump followed an upgrade by analysts of share price recommendations for Nvidia, whose main chip supplier is TSMC, due to expected growth in artificial intelligence.

In Europe at midday, Germany’s DAX gained 0.7% and the CAC 40 in Paris was up 0.5%. Britain’s FTSE 100 climbed 1.2%.

In other trading Friday, U.S. benchmark crude oil shed 54 cents to $77.49 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Brent crude, the international standard, gave up 71 cents to $82.15 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar rose to 150.24 Japanese yen from 149.94 yen. The euro slipped modestly, to $1.0771 from $1.0773.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 rose 0.6% to 5,029.73, squeaking past its all-time high set last week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.9% to 38,773.12 and the Nasdaq composite climbed 0.3%, to 15,906.17.

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