U.S. stocks close sharply higher in year-end rally after jobless claims data deemed ‘welcome news for the Fed’


U.S. stock indexes finished sharply higher on Thursday, the second-to-last trading session of the year, with the Nasdaq Composite jumping 2.6%, erasing losses from earlier in the week.

The three main indexes built on premarket gains after U.S. weekly jobless claims data showed the number of workers receiving benefits has climbed to the highest level since February, a tentative sign that the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate hikes might be slowing economic growth and inflation.

How stocks traded
  • The S&P 500 SPX, +1.75% rose 66.06 points, or 1.8%, to end at 3,849.28.
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +1.05% added 345.09 points, or 1.1%, finishing at 33,220.80.
  • Nasdaq Composite COMP, +2.59% climbed 264.80 points, or 2.6%, to finish at 10,478.09.

On Wednesday, the Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.4% to 10,213, its lowest closing level of the year. The S&P 500 is up more than 6% from its 2022 low from mid-October, but the large-cap index remains down 19.2% year-to-date, FactSet data show.

What drove markets

The penultimate session of 2022 showed tentative signs of delivering some much needed festive cheer for the stock market as a hope for “Santa Claus rally” had earlier failed to materialize.

MarketWatch Live: Is that you, Santa Claus?

Stocks advanced on Thursday as data showed the number of Americans receiving more than a single week of unemployment benefits had climbed by 41,000 last week to 1.71 million, the highest level in 10 months.

The jobless-claims data “points to a loosening in the labor market, which is welcome news for the Fed,” said Larry Adam, chief investment officer at Raymond James, in a tweet.

However, analysts at Citi still think the claims data indicates a still-very-tight labor markets compared to historical levels.

“While both initial and continuing claims increased this week, they remain within the levels of late 2019,” wrote Gisela Hoxha, U.S. economics research analyst at Citi. “Anecdotes of company layoffs have increased in recent months, particularly in the tech sector. While it could be hard to disentangle the seasonal effects from the announced layoffs, in our view there is no significant evidence of them showing up in the claims data yet.”

Some of those layoffs could be taking effect a couple months later as employees might be kept on payroll for some time after the announcement, which will become significant signs of weakness in the labor market in 2023, Hoxha added.

See: Did 2022 break Wall Street’s ‘fear gauge’? Why the VIX no longer reflects the sorry state of the stock market

Stocks were on track to finish what’s set to be the worst year since 2008 not far from 2022 lows. The S&P 500’s 52-week closing low at 3,577.03 was hit on Oct. 12.

Still, the three indexes managed to erase losses from earlier in the week on Thursday. Nasdaq Composite was down 0.2% this week, while the S&P 500 gained 0.1% and the Dow was nearly flat as of Thursday’s close. If the S&P 500 can hold on to weekly gains through Friday, it would mark the end of a three-week losing streak that has been the index’s longest since September, FactSet data show.

Companies in focus
  • Tesla Inc. TSLA, +8.08% shares finished 8.1% higher on Thursday after posting its first rise in eight sessions Wednesday. The electric-vehicle maker’s shares had declined in seven consecutive sessions, their worst losing streak since a seven-session run that ended on Sept. 15, 2018.
  • Southwest Airlines  LUV, +3.70% remains in focus as the airline tries to recover from logistical issues that caused thousands of flight cancellations over the past week. The stock fell 11% over the past two days, but rose 3.7% in Thursday session.
  • General Electric’s  GE, +2.17% spinoff of GE HealthCare Technologies will join the S&P 500 index when it begins trading as a separate public company on Jan. 4. GE HealthCare will replace Vornado Realty Trust  VNO, +1.63%, which will move to the S&P MidCap 400. Vornado will replace logistics company RXO RXO, +8.39%, which will move to the S&P SmallCap 600. GE HealthCare — trading on a when-issued basis — rose 0.9%, while Vornado gained 1.6% and RXO jumped 8.4%.
  • Cal-Maine  CALM, -14.50% shares ended 14.5% lower after its quarterly earnings came in below Wall Street forecasts. Cal-Maine reported record sales for the quarter as an avian flu outbreak continued to limit the supply of eggs, driving prices sharply higher. The company also said there were no positive tests for avian flu at any of its production facilities, as of Wednesday.

— Jamie Chisholm contributed to this article


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