The S&P 500 and Nasdaq closed at records Thursday as investors balanced strong corporate earnings against worries about the pace of the economic recovery amid the rapidly spreading delta variant of COVID-19.
First-time claims for unemployment benefits, meanwhile, fell for a second week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 271 points, or 0.78%, to 35,064, the S&P 500 climbed 0.6% and the Nasdaq gained 0.78%.
Stocks had finished mostly lower Wednesday after private employers in the U.S. added fewer-than-expected jobs in July, suggesting an uneven recovery as pandemic concerns and supply-chain disruptions held back employment gains.
The Labor Department will release the official U.S. jobs report on Friday. Economists surveyed by FactSet estimate the U.S. added 862,500 jobs in July, higher than June's 850,000. The unemployment rate is forecast to have fallen to 5.7% from 5.9%.
"We think the labor market will continue to improve through the fall season, but gains are likely to be uneven, with the delta variant likely to disrupt service-based and leisure industries," said Angelo Kourkafas, investment strategist at Edward Jones.
"The labor market is a key pillar to economic growth, and the Federal Reserve is watching employment gains closely as part of its monetary policy framework.”
Investors also were assessing comments from Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida, who said the central bank could begin boosting interest rates early in 2023 as long as the economy continues to expand. He also said he could see a scenario in which bond purchase tapering could start later this year.
Clarida's comments sparked a decline in benchmark 10-year Treasury note yields, which were steadying Thursday and edging higher to 1.224%.
On the virus front, China, hard-hit by a delta-driven outbreak, imposed new restrictions on travel and movement.
New COVID cases in the U.S. hit a six-month high with more than 100,000 infections reported on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
About two-thirds of Australia’s population was in lockdown.
Moderna (MRNA) - Get Moderna, Inc. Report posted stronger-than-expected second-quarter earnings and boosted its forecast for 2021 vaccine sales to around $20 billion. The stock finished down 0.7% at $416.26.
Enthusiasm for the stock, driven largely by the retail trading crowd, propelled shares of the online trading platform more than 125% higher over the prior two days.