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Stocks Close Higher Amid Plan to Resume Stimulus Talks, Weak Jobs Data

After a volatile session, stocks end modestly higher amid disappointing jobless numbers and word that fiscal-stimulus talks might resume.

Stocks ended modestly higher in choppy trading Thursday amid disappointing jobless numbers and word from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that he planned to resume fiscal-stimulus talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 52 points, or 0.2%, to 26,815, the S&P 500 was up 0.3% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq rose 0.37%.

The Dow was up as much as 1.2% and down as much as 0.8% on Thursday.

Goldman Sachs  (GS) - Get Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. Report led the blue-chip index higher, closing up 4.8% at $195.11. UBS analyst Brennan Hawken upgraded the investment bank to buy from neutral and raised his price target on the stock to $245 from $220. 

Apple  (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report finished up 1% and Tesla  (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc Report tacked on almost 2%.

Mnuchin told a Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday that a targeted pandemic relief package was “still needed,” Bloomberg reported.

Equities moved in and out of positive territory as chances of further fiscal aid from Congress appeared to be dwindling ahead of the presidential election, and as the number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits remained elevated.

New home sales in the U.S. jumped to a 14-year high, cementing the housing market's recent gains as mortgage rates have held near all-time lows.

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Upbeat comments from Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard gave stocks a boost Thursday. Bullard said that if third-quarter gross domestic product expands rapidly, the U.S. economy could reach "a sort of full recovery by the end of 2020."

Tech shares were the leading gainers on Wall Street after the S&P 500 earlier in the session fell 10% from its September high.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that 870,000 Americans filed for first-time jobless benefits in the week ended Sept. 19, up from a revised 860,000 claims the week earlier. Economists polled by FactSet had been expecting claims of 850,000.

Jobless claims have held at historically high levels as the labor market continues to seesaw amid the coronavirus pandemic and its back-and-forth effect on companies' need for workers.

"While jobless claims under a million for four straight weeks could be considered a positive, we’re staring down a pretty stagnant labor market," said Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy at E-Trade. 

"This has been a slow roll to recovery and with no signs of additional stimulus from Washington, jobless Americans will likely continue to exist in limbo. 

"Further, a shaky labor market translates into a skittish consumer, and in the face of a pandemic that seemingly won’t go away without a vaccine, the outlook for the economy certainly comes into question," he added.

Economists at Goldman Sachs cut their fourth-quarter-growth forecasts for the U.S. to 3% from 6% and said "further fiscal support will likely have to wait until 2021."