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US STOCKS-S&P, Nasdaq close at record highs on optimism about Biden stimulus plan

Echo Wang
·3 min read
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* U.S. weekly jobless claims at elevated levels

* Growth stocks outperform value names

* United Airlines slips on fourth straight quarterly loss (Adds comment, updates prices to market close)

By Echo Wang

Jan 21 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 and Nasdaq closed at record highs on Thursday, propelled by optimism about more pandemic relief under the Biden administration to support the economy after data showed a tepid labor market recovery.

The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits dipped to 900,000 last week but still remained stubbornly high as the COVID-19 pandemic tears through the nation, raising the risk that the economy will shed jobs for a second straight month in January.

But other data showed the housing and manufacturing sectors as areas of strength to help buttress the economy.

"We've had a very strong momentum going into this year and coming into the Biden administration... because of prospects of a bigger stimulus check and more spending in general," said Mohannad Aama, managing director at Beam Capital Management LLC in New York.

Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 12.37 points, or 0.04%, to 31,176.01, the S&P 500 gained 1.23 points, or 0.03%, to 3,853.08 and the Nasdaq Composite added 73.67 points, or 0.55%, to 13,530.92.

The Nasdaq Composite advanced, boosted by a jump in shares of megacap stocks such as Alphabet Inc, Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc ahead of their earnings reports in the coming weeks.

It follows Netflix Inc's blowout results on Wednesday that revitalized the "stay-at-home" beneficiaries, adding $262 billion in overall market capitalization to the FAANG group of stocks.

"Given the possible surge in COVID cases, investors are going to go back to the old playbook that worked well at similar times last year... (The) technology sector is performing well and (so is) anything related to working from home," Aama added.

In a reversal of the trend earlier this month, the Russell 1000 growth index, which includes technology stocks, is this week far outperforming the Russell 1000 value index, which is heavily comprised of cyclical stocks such as financials and energy.

President Joe Biden has launched several initiatives during his initial days in office, including ramping up testing and vaccine rollouts.

Technology, consumer discretionary and communication services which includes Alphabet and Facebook, were the only S&P sectors in green.

Energy was the biggest drag among 11 major S&P sectors, following news Biden revoked the Keystone XL oil pipeline project's presidential permit.

With valuations near a 20-year high, corporate results could present an important test of whether the stock market rally has run ahead of fundamentals.

Earnings at S&P 500 companies are expected to rise by 24% in 2021 after falling 15% in 2020, according to Refinitiv data as of Jan. 15.

United Airlines Holdings Inc dropped after posting a fourth straight quarterly loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic but said it aims to cut about $2 billion of annual costs through 2023.

Ford Motor Co jumped extending gains for a second straight day after Deutsche Bank raised its price target on the U.S. automaker's stock.

(Reporting by Echo Wang; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)