ASX set for flat start as Wall Street hovers near milestone

By Stan Choe

Stocks held near record levels on Wall Street as evidence kept piling up to show the job market remains remarkably solid.

The S&P 500 edged up 0.1 per cent, just a few points shy of closing above the 5000 level for the first time. The Dow rose 0.1 per cent, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.2 per cent higher. The Australian sharemarket is set to retreat, with futures at 5am AEDT pointing to a flat open. The ASX added 0.3 per cent on Thursday.

Wall Street is on the cusp of a big milestone.
Wall Street is on the cusp of a big milestone. Credit: NYSE

The US economy has blown past earlier expectations for a recession, and the latest show of strength came from a report indicating fewer workers applied for unemployment benefits last week than expected. The number remains low relative to history, even if layoffs at Google’s parent company, Macy’s and other big-name companies have been getting attention recently.

In prior months, such a report may have hurt the stock market because of concerns that it would mean a longer wait for cuts to interest rates from the Federal Reserve. But investors have been coming around to the idea that good news on the economy is good for stocks because it will drive profits for companies, and futures tied to the S&P 500 rose after the report.

The latest set of earnings reports from big US companies were also keeping the stock market mixed overall.

The Walt Disney Co. jumped 11.5 per cent after it reported stronger profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected. It benefited from cost cuts and growth at its theme parks.

Ralph Lauren was another winner, rising 16.8 per cent after its profit and revenue topped Wall Street’s forecasts. It said it saw strong holiday sales around the world, led by Asia.

US-listed shares of Arm Holdings, a UK-based semiconductor company, soared 47.8 per cent after it also topped analysts’ expectations.


Helping to offset those gains was PayPal, which slumped 11.2 per cent even though it reported stronger profit than expected. It gave a forecast for expected profit across 2024 that fell short of analysts’.

S&P Global was another one of the heaviest weights on the S&P 500 and fell 5 per cent after reporting weaker profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected.

New York Community Bancorp was having another sharp zigzag day and went from an early loss of nearly 10 per cent to a gain and back to a loss of 6.5 per cent. Its stock has dropped nearly 60 per cent since it shocked investors across the banking industry with a surprise loss last week, and Moody’s cut its credit-rating to “junk” status earlier this week.

Analysts have said its problems are specific to it, particularly as it absorbs the purchase of much of Signature Bank, which was one of the banks that fell in last year’s mini-crisis for the industry. But worries remain high about a problem that’s affecting banks worldwide: weakness in commercial real estate.

Stocks of other regional banks have also been swinging sharply lately, forcing uncomfortable memories of last year’s banking crisis.

In the bond market, the yield on the 10-year Treasury ticked up to 4.15 per cent from 4.12 per cent late Wednesday.

Traders have taken heed of warnings from the Federal Reserve that its first cut to rates following years of rapid hikes won’t come soon. They’re betting on less than a 19 per cent probability that it will arrive in March, down from nearly 66 per cent a month ago, according to data from CME Group.

In stock markets abroad, indexes rose across much of Asia and Europe.

Stocks climbed 1.3 per cent in Shanghai after China replaced its top stock market regulator late Wednesday with an industry veteran nicknamed the “broker butcher,” analysts say, due to his record for cracking down on market abuses such as insider trading. Stocks fell 1.3 per cent in Hong Kong, though.

Beijing has been struggling to prop up what have been some of the world’s worst-performing markets this year.


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