Markets

S&P 500, Nasdaq Close at Record Highs as Wall Street Looks for Strong Finish to August

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

The S&P 500 set another record high on Monday as the stock market continued to rise in the final days of August.

The broad market index gained 0.43% to set a new record high 4,528.79, while the Nasdaq Composite traded up 0.90% for its own all-time high 15,265.89. The Dow Jones Industrial Average underperformed, losing 55.96 points or 0.16% to close at 35,399.84.

Key technology stocks led the way on Monday. Microsoft and Netflix each rose about 1.3%, and Apple jumped 3%.

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Shares of Affirm Holdings surged more than 46% after the buy now, pay later company announced a partnership with Amazon on Friday. Amazon's stock rose about 2%.

Financial stocks weighed on the broader market, with Capital One shedding 6% and Wells Fargo losing 2.8%. Airline stocks lost ground the European Union recommended that member countries reinstate a ban on non-essential travel to the U.S. due to the Covid-19.

Shares of Paypal, rose 3.6% after CNBC reported that the company is exploring a stock-trading platform for its U.S. customers. Discount brokerage Robinhood, however, saw its stock fall 6.9% after SEC Chair Gary Gensler told Barron's that banning the controversial payment-for-order-flow business model was "on the table."

Monday and Tuesday mark the last two trading days of August. After Monday's session, the S&P 500 is up 3% in August, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite have risen 1.3% and 4% this month, respectively. The strong month came as corporate earnings reports for the second quarter showed strong growth for sales and profits.

"We can't entirely dismiss the risks, including the Delta variant, supply chain disruptions, and inflation pressures—particularly wages. But we expect corporate America's efficiency and the strength of the reopening to continue to power earnings ahead and lead to additional gains for stocks over the rest of 2021," Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist for LPL Financial, said in a note to clients on Monday.

Stocks appeared to get another boost last week after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signaled on Friday that bond tapering could start this year, but the central bank is in no rush to hike interest rates. 

Based on statements from other Fed officials, a tapering announcement could come as soon as the Fed's Sept. 21-22 meeting. Powell said the central bank has "much ground to cover" to reach its other goal of maximum employment.

"With record GDP and earnings growth, rising inflation and the rates of infection from the Delta variant peaking, the Fed will feel more pressure to remove what is essentially emergency monetary accommodation," wrote Morgan Stanley's Mike Wilson, who sees a 10% correction soon in the market. "We expect a more formal signal from the Fed at the September FOMC meeting, and the markets are likely to anticipate it. That means higher interest rates and lower equity valuations."

Stocks could stay largely range-bound until the release of August's jobs report on Friday. Economists polled by Dow Jones expect 750,000 jobs were created in August and the unemployment rate fell to 5.2%.

With the Fed's Jackson Hole meeting in the rearview, investors are now focused on the direction of stocks for the final months of the year. The S&P 500 is up more than 20% in 2021 but the market is also absorbing peak policy stimulus, peak earnings acceleration and peak reopening momentum.

However, a slowdown in earnings and economic growth could still be a positive environment for stocks.

"Even with a mild cool-off in economic activity, the earnings profile is unequivocally strong. Even with a degree of moderation of these sky-high levels, they will still be high enough to present a conducive environment for equities. In other words, a tone down from great settings to good," researchers from Bank of America said in a note to clients.

Oil and gasoline futures rose slightly on Monday as investors assessed the damage from Hurricane Ida slamming into the gulf coast. Energy stocks moved modestly lower.

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