Nasdaq ekes out gain but S&P 500, Dow end lower, despite hotter-than-expected retail sales


U.S. stock benchmarks finished an up-and-down day mixed, with the Nasdaq Composite managing to register a slight gain, as August retail sales showed an unexpected rise and a measure of activity in the Federal Reserve’s Philadelphia district came in stronger than expected.

On Wednesday, the Dow industrials rose 236.82 points, or 0.7%, to 34,814.39, the S&P 500 SPX rose 0.9%, and the Nasdaq Composite COMP gained 0.8%.

Data showed August retail sales rose 0.7%, defying forecasts for a 0.7% fall. Excluding autos, sales jumped 1.8%, compared with expectations for a rise of 0.2%.

Separately, the Philadelphia Fed’s activity index jumped to 30.7 in September from 19.4 a month earlier. At the same time, data showed first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected in the week ending Sept. 11, though continuing claims fell.

“Fears that a collapse in consumer sentiment would cut retail sales have not yet been confirmed. Other indicators released at the same time as the sales report also give hope for the better,” said Alex Kuptsikevich, senior market analyst at FxPro, in emailed comments.

But equities struggled to rally, with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq finishing in negative territory and analysts noting that the headline rise in retail sales was offset partially by cuts to the July data.

A late-session rally briefly helped to propel all three major equity indexes into positive territory but only the Nasdaq Composite closed in the green, eking out a gain for the second day in a row.

“For the most part we’re still seeing the move higher in Treasury yields capping out and giving the green light for big tech to firm up,” said Edward Moya, a senior market analyst with Oanda Corp. “We’re seeing investors go back into some of their favorite stocks and after everything is processed, the American consumer is too strong to bet against this stock market.”

Historically, September tends to be a weak month for U.S. stocks and the Dow is down 1.55% through first 10 trading days of September, while the S&P 500 is down 0.93%, according to Dow Jones Market Data. Friday also brings the so called quadruple witching day when stock options, single stock futures, stock-index futures and stock index options all expire which sometimes creates some volatility.

See: Stock-market investors brace for ‘quadruple witching’ this Friday

While the coronavirus delta variant has hit some U.S. states hard, the debate over the need for booster shots continues, with the Food and Drug Administration saying the currently administered vaccines provide sufficient protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19, while vaccine maker Moderna Inc. MRNA says effectiveness wanes over time.

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