Wall St ekes out modest gains as S&P 500 hovers near all-time closing high

By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK (Reuters) -U.S. stocks closed slightly higher in languid trading on Wednesday, with little market-moving news to fuel conviction as the S&P 500 hovered just below bull market confirmation.

The three major U.S. stock indexes oscillated between modest gains and losses throughout the session but finished up for the day. All are on course for monthly, quarterly, and annual gains.

The S&P 500 ended 0.3% below its record closing high of 4,796.56 reached on Jan. 3, 2022. The Dow notched a new record closing high.

“When you have very few catalysts and minimal trading activity you tend to see continuation of the trends,” said Chuck Carlson, chief executive officer at Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana.

“We’ve got three days left of trading in the year,” Carlson added. “That means three days left of tax harvesting, three days of portfolio window dressing … those sort of things can get magnified because of the lack of trading volume.”

Reaching a new record close would confirm the bellwether index entered a bull market when it reached the bear market closing trough in October 2022.

“Those kind of milestones are important because they can generate activity for investors who are sitting on the fence,” Carlson said.

In the wake of Friday’s cooler-than-expected U.S. PCE price index data, bets are firming that the Fed will start issue its first rate cut as soon as March, which is supporting interest rate sensitive shares and giving Wall Street’s major indexes an upward bias.

At last glance, financial markets have priced in a 73.9% probability that policymakers will reduce the Fed funds target rate by 25 basis points at the conclusion of their March policy meeting, according to CME’s FedWatch tool.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 111.19 points, or 0.3%, to 37,656.52, the S&P 500 gained 6.83 points, or 0.14%, to 4,781.58 and the Nasdaq Composite added 24.60 points, or 0.16%, to 15,099.18.

Among the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, real estate enjoyed the largest percentage gain, while energy shares, weighed down by falling crude prices, lost the most.

Shares of Bit Digital jumped 18.6% following the bitcoin miner’s announcement that it plans to double its mining operations.

Coherus BioSciences rose 23.6% after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved its drug delivery device for its infection-fighting treatment.

First Wave BioPharma shares surged 49.6% after the drug developer agreed to sell its inflammatory bowel disease drug to an undisclosed company.

Cytokinetics soared 82.6% after its experimental heart disease drug met the main goal of late-stage study, putting it on track to compete with a rival treatment from Bristol Myers Squibb.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.86-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.46-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 50 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 218 new highs and 60 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 11.96 billion shares, compared with the 12.67 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

(Reporting by Stephen Culp; Additional reporting by Shubham Batra and Amruta Khandekar in Bengaluru; Editing by David Gregorio)