Wall Street muted as eyes turn to next week's Fed meeting

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Wall Street stocks were mixed at the close of a languid week marked with few market-moving catalysts and lingering concerns over whether longer-term inflation could prompt the U.S. Federal Reserve to tighten its dovish policy sooner than expected.

The Nasdaq (.IXIC) was modestly higher, and the S&P 500 (.SPX) was essentially flat, with the latter hovering just below its record closing high, while the Dow (.DJI), weighed by healthcare stocks (.SPXHC) edged into negative territory.

Economically sensitive smallcaps (.RUT) and transports (.DJT) notched solid gains, outperforming the broader market.

For the week, the S&P and the Nasdaq have set a course to post gains from last Friday’s close, while the Dow was on track for a weekly loss.

But the indexes have been range-bound, with few catalysts to move investor sentiment. Much of the focus centered on Thursday’s consumer price data, which eased jitters over the duration of the current inflation wave.

“It’s a quiet day going into the weekend, volume is low and that’s to be expected,” said Matthew Keator, managing partner in the Keator Group, a wealth management firm in Lenox, Massachusetts. “We had a big inflation number this week and the markets seem to be taking it in stride.”

“The question seems to be how long it will last.”

The Federal Reserve has repeatedly said that near-term price surges will not metastasize into lasting inflation, an assertion reflected in the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment report released on Friday, which showed inflation expectations easing from last month’s spike. read more

Investors now turn their attention to the Fed’s statement at the conclusion of next week’s two-day monetary policy meeting, which will be parsed for clues regarding the central bank’s timetable for raising key interest rates.

The Wall St. sign is seen near the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“I don’t expect any surprises but I believe the Fed is certainly under a microscope so people will try to ascertain the duration of the current dovish policy,” Keator added.

Benchmark U.S. Treasury yields have posted their biggest weekly drop in nearly a year, weighing on the interest-sensitive financial sector (.SPSY) in recent sessions.

The Food and Drug Administration is facing mounting criticism over its “accelerated approval” of Biogen Inc’s (BIIB.O) Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm without strong evidence of its ability to combat the disease. read more

Biogen shares were down 3.9%, while the broader healthcare sector (.SPXHC) shed 0.8%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) fell 40.16 points, or 0.12%, to 34,426.08, the S&P 500 (.SPX) gained 1.51 points, or 0.04%, to 4,240.69 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) added 18.67 points, or 0.13%, to 14,039.01.

Among the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, rebounding financial stocks (.SPLRCT) and tech (.SPLRCT) were leading the gainers, while healthcare suffered the biggest percentage drop.

Much of the trading volume this week was attributable to the ongoing social media-driven “meme stock” phenomenon, in which retail investors swarm around heavily shorted stocks.

But meme stock moves were more muted on Friday, with AMC Entertainment (AMC.N) leading the pack, up 11.4%.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.51-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.45-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 29 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 97 new highs and 12 new lows.

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