Stocks on track to open near records in final session of 2020

Stocks on track to open near records in final session of 2020

Futures point to a flat start for U.S. stocks on Thursday, with major indexes set to trade near records as investors ring out a tumultuous year that saw equities collapse into a bear market before rebounding to all-time highs.

What are major indexes doing?
  • Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average

    was up 13 points, or less than 0.1%, at 30,315.

  • S&P 500 futures

    rose 2.55 points to 3,726.75.

  • Nasdaq-100 futures

    were up 19.25 points, or 0.2%, at 12,860.75.

Stocks logged modest gains Wednesday, nudging the Dow

to a record finish. The S&P 500

closed within 0.1% of its record close of 3,735.36 and the Nasdaq Composite

ended just 0.2% below its all-time high finish of 12,889.42 — both set on Tuesday.

Through Thurday’s close, the Nasdaq was on track for an annual gain of more than 43%, its largest since 2009, reflecting huge gains for tech- and internet-related stocks that benefited from the stay-at-home phenomenon created by the pandemic. The S&P 500 was on track for a 15.5% rise, while the Dow was headed for a yearly gain of 6.6%.

What’s driving the market?

 Equities are on track to end 2020 on a strong note after plunging into a bear market in February and March as the COVID-19 pandemic brought the global economy to a near halt. The bear market was one of the shortest in history, with equities subsequently rebounding as governments and central banks moved to aggressively provide stimulus.

Gains were accelerated over the last two months as vaccines were approved and began to be rolled out, even as a resurgence of the virus sends the number of cases and fatalities to new highs.

“Looking into 2021, the burning question is whether this cheerfulness will continue to dominate as vaccines are fully deployed and the global economy heals its wounds. The vast consensus within the financial community is that it will,” said Marios Hadjikyriacos, investment analyst at XM, in a note.

Trading activity was expected to be thin amid holiday-type conditions. Markets will be closed Friday for the New Year’s Day holiday.

Investors appeared to take fading prospects for larger direct payments to U.S. households in stride. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., late Wednesday afternoon said he wouldn’t allow a stand-alone vote on the proposal passed by the Democratic controlled House on Monday that would boost the payouts from $600 to 2,000.

The U.S. counted at least 229,235 new cases on Wednesday, and at least 3,808 people died, according to a New York Times tracker. In the past week, the U.S. has averaged 183,271 cases a day, down 13% from the average two weeks ago, but health experts have warned that cases are likely to rise following travel around Christmas.

There are currently a record 125,220 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, breaking the record set a day ago. 

The economic calendar features weekly data on jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. Economists polled by MarketWatch predict first-time jobless claims — a rough measure of layoffs — will climb to 835,000 in the seven days ended Dec. 26 from 803,000 in the prior week, reflecting a pandemic-inspired hit to the labor market.

Which companies are in focus?

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