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S&P 500, Dow set fresh record highs amid strong earnings, economic data

Stocks traded higher Friday in another record-setting day on Wall Street, with a batch of stronger-than-expected economic data and corporate earnings results helping fuel a risk rally.

The S&P 500 and Dow each rallied to record levels, with the latter extending gains well beyond the 34,000 level. The Nasdaq hugged the flat line as technology stocks pared some recent gains.  

“The Dow’s push through 34,000 is a signal that investor appetite for future growth prospects is spilling over into more value-oriented names,” Peter Essele, head of portfolio management for Commonwealth Financial Network, said in an email. “The demand for industrials and more cyclically-oriented areas should continue as the vaccines take hold and earnings potentially come in higher than originally expected.” 

Treasury yields ticked up Friday morning after retreating on Thursday even amid a batch of estimates-topping economic data. Retail sales rose in March by the most since May 2020, fueled by a combination of stimulus spending and broadening business reopenings, and new weekly unemployment claims fell to a fresh pandemic-era low. First-quarter corporate earnings have largely topped already lofty estimates, with the big banks that reported this week posting rising sales and profits to coincide with the strengthening economic backdrop.

To many strategists, the stronger-than-anticipated quarterly reports this week are likely just the start of a slew of strong results in the coming weeks. 

“We are expecting this economic recovery. It’s only just starting to unfold,” Seema Shah, Principal Global Investors chief strategist, told Yahoo Finance. “We think that as our earnings numbers go through, showing that really positive picture, confirming that positive picture, then that’s going to give the market an additional ‘oomph.’ But certainly, the rotation that we’ve already seen over the last couple of weeks, couple of months, has still got further to go. And really equity markets are in a very good position given this very strong economic backdrop.”  

10:47 a.m. ET: Signs point to a strong April jobs report, extended pick-up in consumer spending: Bank of America 

The recent strong batch of economic data will likely extend into next month, with the labor market and consumer spending rising in tandem with the ongoing economic reopening, according to Bank of America economist Michelle Meyer.

“The data flow has been tremendously strong,” Meyer told Yahoo Finance on Friday. “We saw a dramatic increase in retail spend, the claims numbers are improving, confidence is picking up, manufacturing activity is still roaring … So I think job creation should be quite robust in April.” 

Looking back at the March retail sales report out Thursday, which showed the strongest monthly increase since May 2020, “the stimulus payments contributed quite a lot to the gain,” she added. “We think the next stage in consumer spending will be much more about the reopening, it will likely be more driven by higher-income consumers who have kind of unintentionally been saving because they haven’t been living their lives in the typical way they have, so they haven’t been spending as much on service activities.”

“But it’s not going to be the same type of pace as we saw from stimulus,” she said. “Stimulus is a jolt. The reopening is much more of a steady upward pressure that will keep consumer spending running at a very healthy clip in our view.”

10:16 a.m. ET: Consumer sentiment extends gains in April, reaching a one-year high: University of Michigan

Consumer sentiment increased in April over March as faster-than-anticipated vaccinations and easing social distancing standards helped lift consumers’ outlooks on the economy. 

The University of Michigan’s preliminary April index of consumer sentiment showed an increase to 86.5 during the month, up from March’s print of 84.9. However, this was below consensus expectations for a rise to 89.0, according to Bloomberg data.

“Consumers in early April reported surging economic growth and strong job gains due to record stimulus spending, low interest rates, and the positive impact of vaccinations,” Richard Curtin, Surveys of Consumers chief economist, said in a statement. “The Sentiment Index rose to its best level in a year on the strength of recent gains in current economic conditions, while future economic prospects remained unchanged from March.” 

“The strength in current economic conditions reflects much larger than usual stimulus payments during the past year, and much larger than usual economic gains due to comparisons with last year’s shutdowns,” he added. “Other factors suppressed the pace of expected gains, including persistent concerns with vaccine safety as well as a surge in year-ahead inflation expectations to 3.7%, the highest level in nearly a decade.”

9:30 a.m. ET: Stocks open at record levels

Here’s where markets were trading Friday morning after market open:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): +15.27 points (+0.37%) to 4,185.69

  • Dow (^DJI): +158.33 points (+0.47%) to 34,194.32

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): -17.85 points (-0.1%) to 14,025.22

  • Crude (CL=F): -$0.07 (-0.11%) to $63.39 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): +$8.70 (+0.49%) to $1,775.50 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +5.9 bps to yield 1.589%

8:30 a.m. ET: Housing starts surge by the most since June 2020 in March as warming weather fuels rebound 

Housing starts jumped 19.4% in March over February, the Commerce Department said Friday, with inclement weather easing during the month and helping catalyze a resurgence in building activity. This marked the biggest monthly jump since July 2020, and handily exceeded consensus economist expectations for a rise of 13.5%. 

The jump also sharply reversed February’s 11.3% monthly decline. Housing starts in March rose to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.739 million, or the highest level since 2006. The vast majority of these were for single-family housings starts, which rose 15.3% in March. By geography, single-family starts in the South saw the biggest monthly gain at 8%. 

Building permits, which signal future homebuilding, also rose more than expected, climbing 2.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.766 million. This followed a decline of 8.8% in February. 

7:52 a.m. ET: Morgan Stanley posts record Q1 net income as stock and bond trading surges 

Morgan Stanley (MS) extended a streak of strong bank earnings results this week, posting record net income in the first quarter as rising rates and strong demand for equity and fixed-income trading fueled results.

Adjusted earnings of $2.22 per share were well above the $1.68 expected, according to Bloomberg consensus data. Net revenue of $15.7 billion was also a record, and easily topped estimates for $13.95 billion and last year’s first-quarter net revenue of $9.8 billion. Fixed income trading revenue jumped 44% to $2.97 billion, while equities trading revenue rose 17% to $2.88 billion. 

“The Firm delivered record results. The integrated Investment Bank continues to thrive. We closed the acquisition of Eaton Vance which takes Investment Management to over $1.4 trillion of assets,” CEO James Gorman said in a press statement. “Wealth Management brought in record flows of $105 billion. The firm is very well positioned for growth in the years ahead.” 

7:15 a.m. ET Friday: Stock futures drift ahead of the opening bell

Here’s where markets were trading Friday morning:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 4,164.75, up 2 point or 0.05%

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 33,959.00, up 36 points or 0.11%

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 14.004.25, down 9.75 points or 0.07%

  • Crude (CL=F): -$0.02 (-0.03%) to $63.44 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): +$10.70 (+0.61%) to $1,777.50 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +3.7 bps to yield 1.567%

6:07 p.m. ET Thursday: Stock futures mixed after index reach record highs 

Here’s where markets were trading Thursday evening: 

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 4,161.5, down 1 point or 0.02% 

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 33,928.00, up 5 points or 0.01%

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 13,997.5, down 16.5 points or 0.12%

People are seen on Wall St. outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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