FILE- In this March 7, 2019, file photo Robert Arciero, center, works with fellow traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. stock market opens at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday, April 4. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

US stock indexes finish mostly higher after a wobbly day

April 04, 2019 - 4:56 pm

Another wobbly day of trading on Wall Street ended Thursday with modest gains, nudging the market's winning streak to a sixth straight day.

Banks, big retailers and communication services companies accounted for much of the market's gains as a late-afternoon flurry of buying drove stocks higher. Technology and health care stocks lagged the most.

Markets have been wobbly throughout the week as investors wait for the government's jobs report on Friday and prepare for a new round of corporate earnings reports next week.

New government data on Thursday showing applications for unemployment aid fell last week to a 49-year low likely means Friday's jobs report will show a strong rebound in hiring after a weak February, said Phil Orlando, chief equity strategist at Federated Investors.

"The one piece of economic news we got today was actually quite good," Orlando said. "The (jobs) number should be good, and to some degree I think the market has been grinding up, reflecting that improvement, along with other improvements in economic data points that we've seen over the last couple of weeks."

The S&P 500 index rose 5.99 points, or 0.2%, to 2,879.39. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 166.50 points, or 0.6%, to 26,384.63.

The Nasdaq fell 3.77 points, or 0.1%, to 7,891.78. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks picked up 6.58 points, or 0.4%, to 1,567.49.

Major indexes in Europe finished mostly lower.

Despite some bumps this week, the major U.S. stock indexes are on track to end the week with gains, adding to the market's blockbuster returns in the January-March period. The S&P 500 is now up 14.9% this year.

"The market is up 22 percent since the Christmas Eve lows, so the pace of improvement here is going to shift from being strongly positive, as we saw during the first quarter, to more of a grind at this point," Orlando said.

The market could finish the week on a strong note if a the government's latest jobs report shows, as many economists expect, that hiring bounced back in March after adding a paltry 20,000 jobs in February.

Most economists attributed February's meager job gains to harsh winter weather and other temporary factors. The March tally is expected to show employers added 175,000 jobs, according to FactSet.

Investors are also keeping a close watch on the latest rounds of U.S.-China trade negotiations. Washington and Beijing opened a ninth round of talks Wednesday, aiming to further narrow differences in a trade war that has deepened uncertainty for businesses and investors and cast a pall over the outlook for the global economy.

The latest reports say that both sides have resolved most of the key issues, with some pledges from China to end practices viewed by the U.S. as technology theft.

While the big wave of corporate earnings reports arrives next week, some companies have begun providing details that hint at what their next quarterly report cards will show.

Tesla sank 8.2% a day after the electric vehicle company said vehicle deliveries fell sharply in the first quarter.

The company only churned out 77,100 vehicles to start the year, leaving it well off pace to meet CEO Elon Musk's pledge to build 500,000 cars annually.

Musk already warned investors that the company will lose money during the first quarter as it cuts costs in order to lower the price of the Model 3, its first electric car designed for the mass market.

Meanwhile, Office Depot plunged 23.6% after the retailer warned investors that first-quarter revenue would fall short of forecasts. It also said a 20% jump in paper costs over the last 12 months will weigh down operating expenses.

Constellation Brands climbed 6.5% after the wine, liquor and beer company's fourth-quarter results topped Wall Street's forecasts. The company also said it will sell about 30 of its cheaper wine brands.

Boeing gained 2.9% after new details were released about the deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash of an passenger airplane built by the aircraft manufacturer.

Bond prices were little changed. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury held at 2.51%.

The dollar rose to 111.58 yen from 111.47 yen on Wednesday. The euro weakened to $1.1221 from $1.1240.

Energy futures posted an uneven finish. Benchmark U.S. crude dropped 0.6% to settle at $62.10 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, closed 0.1% higher at $69.40 a barrel.

Wholesale gasoline dropped 0.6% to $1.94 a gallon, heating oil picked up 0.3% to $2.01 a gallon and natural gas fell 1.3% to $2.64 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold inched 0.1% lower to $1,294.30 an ounce, silver slipped 0.1% to $15.08 an ounce and copper fell 1.3% to $2.91 a pound.

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AP Business Writer Damian J. Troise contributed to this story.

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