NEW YORK, Dec 23 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 closed barely in positive territory on Wednesday as an expected stimulus deal and falling jobless claims prompted investors to put their money into sectors most likely to benefit from the economy re-opening when it recovers from the global health crisis.
While the blue-chip Dow and small caps led the gains, the tech-heavy Nasdaq ended the session lower.
Economically vulnerable cyclical stocks, which were battered by mandated shutdowns and stand to benefit most from economic recovery, were outperforming.
The rotation into cyclicals reflects a growing confidence in recovery from the pandemic recession, and began in fits and starts after promising late-stage vaccine data was released in early November.
“It’s a very welcoming sign to see rotation into beaten down sectors,” said Matthew Keator, managing partner in the Keator Group, a wealth management firm in Lenox, Massachusetts. “It speaks to the importance to valuation and the importance of diversification.”
“It also speaks to the hope that is out there,” Keator added. “When you see oil pick up and travel and tourism industries pick up, it speaks to the market looking forward and pricing in that hope.”
The possibility of a year-end shutdown of the U.S. government as well as the lack of new fiscal stimulus raised its head after President Donald Trump threatened to veto a $2.3 trillion funding package, which also includes a long-awaited $892 billion pandemic relief deal.
A Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union appeared more likely after a senior European diplomat told Reuters that an agreement could be imminent.
A raft of mixed economic data showed a welcome decrease in jobless claims and an uptick in new orders for durable goods, but also a pullback in consumer spending, dropping personal income and fading sentiment as the holiday shopping season nears its end amid a resurgent pandemic.
But languid inflation data provided further assurance that the U.S. Federal Reserve is likely to maintain its accommodative monetary policy at least until 2024.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 114.32 points, or 0.38%, to 30,129.83, the S&P 500 gained 2.75 points, or 0.07%, to 3,690.01 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 36.80 points, or 0.29%, to 12,771.11.
Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, all but real estate tech and utilities ended the session in the black.
Drugmaker Pfizer Inc rose 1.9% following a deal with the United States to supply 100 million additional doses of its COVID-19 vaccine by July.
Supernus Pharmaceuticals Inc surged 14.6% after its experimental drug for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder met the main goal of a late-stage study in adults.
Shares of Nikola Corp fell 10.7% after it called off a deal to develop electric garbage trucks with recycling and waste disposal firm Republic Services Inc.
American Airlines Group and United Airlines Holdings rose 2.6% and 2.7%, respectively, after revealing plans to bring back furloughed employees this month. The airline industry is hoping to receive about $15 billion in payroll support as part of the pending fiscal relief package.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.38-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.73-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 33 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 280 new highs and two new lows.
Volume on U.S. exchanges was 12.22 billion shares, compared with the 11.52 billion average over the last 20 trading days.
(Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)