Stocks edge higher as tech gains offset healthcare slide


Stocks edged higher in midday trading Thursday, as gains by technology companies offset falling healthcare stocks.

Investors are still digesting the latest corporate earnings and turning their attention to job growth as the the U.S. pushes on with its economic recovery. Job growth has been one of the keys to a sustained economic recovery, but it has been lagging behind other areas of the economy such as retail sales and consumer confidence.

“Continued job gains through the year are going to be important to continue to move things ahead,” said James Ragan, director of wealth management research at D.A. Davidson.

The S&P 500 index rose 0.4% as of 11:45 a.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 190 points, or 0.6% to 34,417 and the Nasdaq Composite was up less than 0.1%.

Healthcare stocks were among the biggest decliners after news last night that the White House supports waiving intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines to help immunize poorer countries faster. But that slide was countered by solid gains from technology companies and banks.

Shares of drugmaker Moderna lost 2.4% after the company reported its first-ever quarterly profit, helped by the company’s coronavirus vaccine. The drop was largely tied to the news from the White House, as shares of other drug companies like Pfizer and Merck also fell.

Shares of Johnson & Johnson were relatively unchanged by the news, partly because J&J has other businesses like Band-Aids, the pain reliever Tylenol and its baby products franchise.

Investors remain focused on corporate earnings, with results from Wall Street Journal publisher News Corp after the closing bell, and results from Cigna, Equifax and insurance giant AIG on Friday. Of the S&P 500 companies reporting so far, 84% topped analysts’ expectations, according to FactSet.

Investors’ attention is turning to Friday’s jobs report for April. Economists expect the data to show employers hired 975,000 workers last month as the economy accelerated out of the pandemic and vaccines rolled out nationwide. The unemployment rate is expected to drop to 5.8% from 6%.

There have already been signs that the labor market is improving. The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of Americans who filed for unemployment benefits last week fell to a pandemic low of 498,000. The payroll processing company ADP said Wednesday that private employers hired 742,000 workers last month.

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