Stocks hover near record levels as Wall Street’s strong February rally stalls out

Stocks hover near record levels as Wall Street’s strong February rally stalls out

U.S. stocks fluctuated near record levels on Friday as Wall Street’s strong momentum to start February fizzled this week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded near the flatline. The S&P 500 gained 0.2% and the Nasdaq Composite was flat after both closed at record highs in the previous session.

“Is the path to much higher equities becoming smaller…to put it differently, are the bulls attempting to thread a needle? Seems that way near term,” Dennis De Busschere, macro research analyst at Evercore ISI, said in a note.

The major averages are still on track to post a positive week near record levels, though the strong rally to begin February has taken a slight breather. The blue-chip Dow posted two little changed days this week, while the S&P 500 fluctuated within 0.2% for three days in a row.

Shares of Disney erased opening gains and traded 2% lower even after the company reported strong growth in paid streaming subscribers and crushed expectations in its earnings report for its fiscal first quarter of 2021. Disney said it now has almost 95 million paid subscribers on its Disney+ streaming service.

The market ground higher to notch records this month as investors remained hopeful for a smooth economic reopening as well as additional Covid stimulus. The Dow has gained 4.7% in February, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq have rallied 5.4% and 7.1%, respectively. The S&P 500 raked in nine record closes in 2021.

Cyclical sectors, those most sensitive to an economic rebound, led the rally in February. Energy is up more than 12% month to date, while financials rallied 8.4%. Materials were also among the top-performing S&P 500 sectors this month, rising more than 6%. Investors also piled into beaten-down small-cap stocks, pushing the Russell 200 up 10% this month.

President Joe Biden said Thursday his administration has secured deals for another 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from Moderna and Pfizer, bringing the U.S. total to 600 million. He added the U.S. will have enough supply for 300 million Americans by end of July.

“Between the ongoing medical and economic improvements, markets continue to expect a much better 2021 and that has supported prices,” Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network, said in a note. “Fourth-quarter earnings are coming in well ahead of expectations, and analysts are now adjusting their 2021 earnings estimates upwards.”

— CNBC’s Thomas Franck and Pippa Stevens contributed reporting.

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