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* Campbell Soup falls after profit misses estimates
* Aethlon Medical, GEO Group among new meme stock darlings
* Merck & Co rises as govt looks to buy COVID treatment
* Indexes: Dow down 0.15%, S&P up 0.09%, Nasdaq up 0.29% (Updates to late afternoon; changes dateline, byline)
NEW YORK, June 9 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 hovered near a record closing high on Wednesday, as institutional investors looked to coming inflation data for clues as to when the U.S. Federal Reserve might tighten its dovish monetary policy.
The retail “meme stock” craze continued unabated.
The gains of all three major U.S. stock indexes were muted as they traded in a tight range in the absence of any clear market catalysts.
“We’re through earnings for the first quarter, people are looking forward to second quarter, there’s not much company news,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York. “We’re likely in a range-bound period.”
The churn of favored “meme stocks,” or heavily shorted stocks involved in a social media-driven retail frenzy, continued its rotation, with Aethlon Medical soaring by 429.9%.
Also benefiting from Reddit chatter, prison operator GEO Group, and World Wrestling Entertainment jumping by 50.9% and 10.4%, respectively.
Among other stocks swept up in social media-driven short squeeze frenzy, Clover Health, AMC Entertainment and Bed Bath & Beyond reversed course to trade lower.
Retail volume has returned to its January peak, according to Vanda Research, as social media forums scramble to identify the next GameStop Corp, the stock that kicked off the phenomenon.
“On a fundamental level some of those retail investors that are getting pulled into this will get hurt as the prices eventually correct,” Ghriskey added.
GameStop is expected to post quarterly results after the bell.
U.S. President Joe Biden changed course in ongoing negotiations to reach a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure spending after one-on-one talks with Senator Shelley Capito broke down.
Industrial stocks, which stand to benefit from an infrastructure deal, fell 0.9% and helped pull the blue-chip Dow slightly lower.
Washington lawmakers passed sweeping bill designed to boost the United States’ ability to compete against Chinese technology, providing funds for research and semiconductor production amid an ongoing chip supply drought. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives.
Even so, the Philadelphia SE Semiconductor index was little changed.
Tomorrow’s consumer price index report from the Labor Department will provide another take on the current spike in prices amid the recovery’s demand/supply imbalance as investors determine whether inflationary pressures, as the Fed asserts, will be transitory.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 51.84 points, or 0.15%, to 34,547.98, the S&P 500 gained 3.97 points, or 0.09%, to 4,231.23 and the Nasdaq Composite added 40.88 points, or 0.29%, to 13,965.79.
Among the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, healthcare was up the most.
Benchmark Treasury yields dropped below 1.5% for the first time since May, weighing on interest-sensitive financials .
Campbell Soup Co missed quarterly profit expectations and slashed its full-year earnings forecast, sending its shares down 5.4%.
Pfizer Inc gained 2.4% after the Biden administration unveiled plans to doning 500 COVID-19 doses to about 100 countries over the next two years, according to a Washington Post report.
Drugmaker Merck & Co gained 2.1% on the heels of its announcement the U.S. government had agreed to buy about 1.7 million courses of the company’s experimental COVID-19 treatment, molnupiravir, for about $1.2 billion, if the drug meets regulatory approval.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.18-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.16-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 35 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 118 new highs and 11 new lows. (Reporting by Stephen Culp; Additional reporting by Ambar Warrick and Shashank Nayar in Bengaluru Editing by Gareth Jones and Richard Chang)