Stocks stayed range-bound on Thursday as investors sat on the sidelines, awaiting new clues on a rate-hike timeline from the Federal Reserve.
The S&P 500 fell 0.02, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.13%, and the Nasdaq gained 0.14%. Markets wavered between slight losses and gains for much of the session.
Wall Street may get more clues on monetary policy from Fed Chair Janet Yellen's appearance at Harvard on Friday, when she's interviewed by Professor Greg Mankiw and receives the Radcliffe Medal. It's unlikely she will say anything explicit, though investors will look for hints.
Markets have slowly come to terms over the past week with the higher probability of a June rate hike, placing the odds at about 26%.
Incoming economic data could make another rate hike appropriate "fairly soon," Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell said in comments at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Powell noted that continued job growth and increases in wages would be needed to justify another hike.
"Depending on the incoming data and the evolving risks, another rate increase may be appropriate fairly soon," Powell said.
Crude gave back gains achieved on Thursday morning as a rally faded. Oil had closed at the highest price since October a day earlier, boosting stocks amid signs that production cuts were reducing a supply glut that had dragged down prices.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell 0.2% to $49.48 on Thursday after topping $50 earlier, for the first time since November.
Pending home sales in the U.S. surged to a 10-year high in April, the latest sign of a robust housing sector. The number of home contract signings rose 5.1% last month to 116.3, according to the National Association of Realtors, its third straight month of growth.
"April's pending home sales and new home sales, which both represent signed contracts, likely benefited from this year's early Easter," Wells Fargo analysts wrote in a note. "With Easter occurring in March, April effectively had one more weekend of sales, and this extra activity looks even better after seasonal adjustment. Even with this boost, however, the rise in home sales reflects real economic gains and underscores the improving housing outlook."
Orders for long-lasting, or durable, goods in the U.S. rose at a faster-than-expected pace in April as demand for new cars, trucks and commercial jets boosted the metric. Durable goods orders rose 3.4% in April, well above estimates of 0.9% growth. Core durable orders, excluding transportation, rose 0.4%.
The number of new claims for unemployment benefits fell by 10,000 to 268,000 in the previous week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. The less-volatile, four-week average showed initial jobless claims rose by 2,750 to 278,500.
Costco (COST) - Get Report rose 3.6% after a mixed third quarter in which a stronger U.S. dollar and lower gas prices ate into the top line. The second-largest retailer in the U.S. by sales said revenue climbed 2.6% to $26.8 billion, below estimates of $27.1 billion. The bulk retailer said comparable sales rose 3% when excluding currency exchange and fuel prices.
HP Inc. (HPQ) - Get Report climbed 6.9% despite missing sales estimates in its second quarter and projecting third-quarter earnings below consensus. The computer hardware company reported an 11% decline in quarterly revenue to $11.6 billion, about $145 million lower than forecasts. Third-quarter profit guidance between 37 cents and 40 cents a share missed consensus of 41 cents.
Sears (SHLD) rose 6.6% after reporting a narrower-than-expected net loss and a slower decline in sales than forecast. Comparable-store sales declined 6.1%, dragged down by a 5% drop at Kmart. Overall revenue fell 8.3% to $5.39 billion, though it beat expectations by $130 million.