Stocks close slightly higher; Dow, S&P up 0.1%
Wall Street kicked off the new week with very modest gains as investors brace for a slew of economic reports, including a key jobs report Friday, that could shed fresh light on the health of the economy and provide clues as to the timing of the next Federal Reserve interest rate hike. Last week, the Dow saw its five-week winning streak snapped as stocks were weighed down from the terror attacks in Brussels and comments from a Fed official that hinted at a rate hike possible as early as April.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose about 20 points points, or 0.1%. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was 0.1% higher and the Nasdaq composite index fell 0.1%. Heading into the week the Dow was sporting a gain of 0.5%, thanks to a big rally following the worst start to a year ever for stocks earlier in 2016. The S&P 500 was trading near the flatline for the year, down just 0.4%.
More volatile stock indexes, such as the technology-dominated Nasdaq, which is off 4.7% for the year, and the small-company Russell 2000, which is down 5% in 2016. For Wall Street, this week is all about incoming economic data. Today, investors got a fresh reading on February personal income, which came in a tad higher at 0.2%. However, while consumer spending last month came in inline with expectations with a gain of 0.1%, January spending was downgraded to flat after a earlier reading of +0.4%. Pending home sales for February rose 3.5%, topping expectations and signaling that the real estate recovery is ongoing.
On Tuesday, the Conference Board will release its March consumer confidence survey. Wednesday, investors will learn how many jobs were created by private employers in March, as well as manufacturing data in the Chicago area. But the key data point comes Friday, when the government issues its March jobs report. Analysts forecast that 200,000 jobs were created in March, after a 242,000 new job count last month. If the jobs report comes in strong again, it could prompt speculation that the Fed could consider hiking rates at its next meeting in April. Wall Street is not expecting another rate hike until June at the earliest.