January 9, 2020 / 8:24 PM / 7 months ago

US STOCKS-Wall St hits record highs on trade optimism, Apple gains

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* Easing geopolitical tensions spur risk-on mood

* Apple, banks rally on positive brokerage comments

* Kohl's slides on lower holiday season sales

* Indexes up: Dow 0.7%, S&P 0.6%, Nasdaq 0.7% (Updates to late afternoon)

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK, Jan 9 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks hit record highs on Thursday as optimism about a U.S.-China trade deal firmed and as Apple and other market heavyweights posted strong gains.

Easing Middle East tensions added to the bullish sentiment.

Apple Inc gained 1.7% on twin support from data showing iPhone sales jumped more than 18% in China in December, as well as a price target hike by Jefferies on expectations of a strong finish to 2019. The S&P 500 technology sector rose 0.9%, the top gainer among sectors.

The financial index was up 0.62% after bullish brokerage comments on Citigroup Inc and Goldman Sachs Group Inc ahead of their earnings.

After a wobbly start to the new year on fears of an all-out conflict in the Middle East, nerves eased as Washington and Tehran looked to defuse the crisis after Iran's retaliatory attack following the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general.

Investors have had resolution on the trade front and an economic environment that is keeping interest rates low, which has kept the market trending higher, said Rick Meckler, partner, Cherry Lane Investments, a family investment office in New Vernon, New Jersey.

"We had a brief pause here about Iran but even that situation, in investors' minds, is resolved."

In another support to stocks, China's commerce ministry said Vice Premier Liu He will sign a Phase 1 trade deal in Washington next week.

President Donald Trump said his administration will start negotiating the Phase 2 trade agreement soon but that he might wait to complete any agreement until after November's presidential election.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 191.74 points, or 0.67%, to 28,936.83, the S&P 500 gained 18.21 points, or 0.56%, to 3,271.26 and the Nasdaq Composite added 61.75 points, or 0.68%, to 9,190.99.

Among the weak spots was the department store operator Kohl's Corp, which slid 7.2% after reporting lower holiday season sales and warning of full-year earnings coming in at the bottom end of an already lowered forecast.

Smaller rival J.C. Penney Co Inc tumbled 11.3% after disappointing same-store sales numbers.

With the fourth-quarter earnings season kicking off next week, analysts expect profits for S&P 500 companies to drop 0.6% in their second consecutive quarterly decline, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.36-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.49-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 77 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 147 new highs and 12 new lows. (Additional reporting by Sruthi Shankar and Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Nick Zieminski)

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