Stocks solidly higher as investors turn to company earnings

Business

Stocks were solidly higher Friday, putting the market on track to end this holiday-shortened week with a slight gain and more record highs. Investors will turn their attention toward company earnings, which kick off next week.

The S&P 500 index was up 1% as of 2:31 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 438 points, or 1.3%, to 34,858 and the Nasdaq composite was up 0.9%. The three major indexes are on pace to close at new highs and with modest weekly gain after recouping losses from a day earlier. Small-company stocks did much better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index rose 1.9%.

The gains were broad with about 90% of the stocks in the S&P 500 rising. Banks and technology companies led the benchmark index higher. Utilities were the only sector slipping. The rally caps a week of choppy trading driven largely by a sharp decline in bond yields, which reversed course Friday as investors set their sights on the upcoming corporate earnings season.

Big companies will start reporting their quarterly earnings next week, starting with major banks like JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Analysts expect another strong quarter for Wall Street, due to the improving economy and fewer Americans defaulting on loans compared with earlier in the pandemic.

Banks have been among the best-performing stocks in the S&P 500 this year. The KBW Bank Index of the 24 largest banks is up 26% this year alone, compared to the 16% gain of the S&P 500.

Investors continue to gauge the potential impact from COVID-19 variants, particularly the highly contagious delta variant, as governments in some countries reimpose lockdowns and travel restrictions. The problem has been particularly bad in Asia and Oceania, where countries that largely avoided the earlier outbreaks are now dealing with quickly growing caseloads of their own.

The rising number of coronavirus cases has been one of the reasons why investors have moved back into bonds in recent days. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was at 1.35% but had been as low as 1.29% on Thursday. Bond prices rise when yields fall.

Investors have also been closely watching the Federal Reserve to see how it reacts to the recovering economy and whether it will pull some of its support sooner than expected. In a report to Congress released Friday, the central bank said its low interest rate policies are providing “powerful support” for the economy as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. It indicated that it plans to continue that support until more economic progress is made.

United Airlines rose 2.9% after saying it will add nearly 150 flights this winter to warm-weather destinations in the U.S. and will also add flights to beach spots in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Oil prices continued to march higher, with U.S. crude oil briefly touching $75 a barrel overnight. It was up 2.2% in afternoon trading Friday. Members of the OPEC oil cartel have yet to come to a consensus on whether to increase oil production or not, which has caused volatility in energy markets the past two weeks.

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