Inventory futures go with the flow, pausing after rally sends S&P 500 to report

Stock futures were flat Thursday morning, with the three major indices looking to pause after a strong advance on Wednesday sent the S&P 500 to record levels. Investors digested a jobless claims report that came in much better than expected, with new weekly unemployment insurance claims falling below 1 million for the first time during the pandemic period.

During the regular session on Wednesday, the S&P 500 briefly topped its record closing level of 3,386.15 from Feb. 19 before ending just slightly below that level. The information technology, health-care and consumer discretionary sectors led the blue-chip index’s 1.4% advance on the day.

An improving outlook on the Covid-19 case front in the US, along with better-than-feared earnings results among major corporations, have given stocks runway to continue their march higher, even as uncertainty over the economic and political outlook lingers, some analysts said. Virus-related hospitalizations in Texas fell to the lowest level since early July on Wednesday, and hospitalizations in California also extended a downward trend, with Governor Gavin Newsom suggesting that the state was “turning the corner” on the pandemic.

“There’s some visibility to the end of the bigger shutdowns, you’ve seen some improvement in the case loads across the Sun Belt as well,” Ed Clissold, Ned David Research Group chief US strategist, told Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade earlier in the day.

“But also, we’re most of the way through the earnings season, and the beat rate — that is, the percentage of companies that have beaten estimates — is actually on pace to be a record high of 84%. So that’s some good news for the market to trade on,” Clissold added.

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After market close Wednesday, Lyft (LYFT) reported a narrower than expected second-quarter loss, and its 61% decline in second-quarter revenue was a shallower drop than feared, as the pandemic wiped out demand for ride-hailing. The company said ridership was up 78% in July compared with April’s lows, and the company maintained its outlook to hit adjusted EBITDA profitability by the end of next year.

Investors also continued to hold onto hopes that lawmakers would eventually reconcile their disparate demands and pass another coronavirus relief package.

However, prospects of a near-term deal appeared slim as of Wednesday as policymakers continued to verbally spar rather than return to the negotiating table. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested in an interview with Fox Business that the White House would not budge on its stance of moving ahead with Senate Republicans’ $1 trillion proposal, despite Democratic lawmakers’ calls for at least twice as much in aid. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement in response to Mnuchin’s remarks that they had “made clear” that they were “willing to come down $1 trillion if they will come up $1 trillion.”

8:30 a.m. ET: New weekly jobless claims dip below 1 million for the first time since March

Weekly unemployment insurance claims fell below the 1 million mark for the first time since the start of the pandemic, in a sign of a better than feared improvement in the labor market as of late.

New jobless claims were at 963,000 for the week ended Aug. 8, or better than the 1.1 million expected. Thursday’s report ended what had been a previous 20-week streak that new claims totaled more than 1 million, with tens of millions of Americans put out of work during the coronavirus pandemic and forced business closures that ensued. 

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Continuing claims, which are reported on a one-week lag, also fell to a pandemic-era low of 15.486 million, dipping below 16 million for the first time during the pandemic period. This metric, which captures the number of individuals still receiving unemployment insurance benefits, has improved in seven of the last eight weeks’ worth of reports.

7:18 a.m. ET Thursday: Stock futures struggle for direction

Here were the main moves in markets, as of 7:18 a.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 3,367.5, down 2.5 points, or 0.07%

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 27,857.00, down 9 points, or 0.03%

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 11,130.00, up 4 points, or 0.04%

  • Crude (CL=F): -$0.03 (-0.07%) to $42.64 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): -$0.40 (-0.02%) to $1,948.60 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -1.1 bps to yield 0.675%

6:03 p.m. ET Wednesday: Stock futures hug the flat line

Here were the main moves in equity markets, as of 6:03 p.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 3,369.5, down 0.5 points, or 0.01%

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 27,868.00, up 2 points, or 0.01%

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 11,123.5, down 2.5 points, or 0.02%

A trader walks in front of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on May 26, 2020 at Wall Street in New York City. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

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