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US STOCKS-S&P, Nasdaq close higher as investors focus on stimulus talks

Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss
·3 min read

* Intel slumps as quarterly margins fall

* American Express drops as profit falls short of estimates (Updates to close, adds new comment, Kudlow's remarks on stimulus)

By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss

NEW YORK, Oct 23 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 and Nasdaq closed modestly higher on Friday in choppy trading, with investors keeping a close eye on negotiations on a U.S. stimulus package that would ease the economic shock caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dow ended lower on the day, moving within tight ranges.

Uncertainty over the timeline of the relief legislation has been weighing on Wall Street's major indexes in recent sessions, with all three indexes posting declines for the week.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it still was possible to get another round of COVID-19 aid before the Nov. 3 election, but that it was up to President Donald Trump to act, including talking to reluctant Senate Republicans, if he wants it.

Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin countered that Pelosi must compromise to get an aid package, saying significant differences remained between the Republican administration and Democrats.

White House Adviser Larry Kudlow also chimed in on Friday, saying it would be difficult to get the stimulus bill passed before the election.

Still the market believes a stimulus deal is going to get done: The only question would be size and timing, analysts said.

Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 25.99 points, or 0.09%, to 28,337.67, the S&P 500 gained 12.15 points, or 0.35%, to 3,465.64 and the Nasdaq Composite added 42.28 points, or 0.37%, to 11,548.28.

The energy index dropped the most among the 11 major S&P sectors.

"This has been a stimulus-driven market for several weeks -- today is more evidence of that," said Lindsey Bell, chief investment strategist at Ally Invest, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"The market believes we are getting a stimulus. But it wants to know when it's going to pass because it's going to take time for the money to flow out," she added.

Meanwhile, a record 50 million Americans cast ballots, eclipsing total early voting from the 2016 election.

Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden debated on Thursday for the last time to persuade the few remaining undecided voters 11 days before their contest, but while the debate was more toned down and substantive, it hardly moved the needle.

Trump still trailed former vice president Biden in national polls after the debate, although the contest is much tighter in some battleground states where the election will likely be decided.

The market was weighed down by the sharp fall in chipmaker Intel Corp after it reported a drop in margins as consumers bought cheaper laptops and pandemic-stricken businesses and governments clamped down on data center spending.

The third-quarter earnings season, meanwhile, chugged along, with about 84% of the 135 S&P 500 companies that have reported so far topping quarterly profit estimates, according to Refinitiv data.

Next week's focus will be on results from Big Tech companies Apple Inc, Facebook Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Google-parent Alphabet.

Gilead Sciences Inc rose as its antiviral drug remdesivir became the first and only drug approved for treating patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States.

American Express Co fell as it missed estimates for third-quarter profit after its customers spent less during the COVID-19 fueled economic slowdown and it set aside money for potential payment defaults. (Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfus; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)