U.S. stocks drifted higher Tuesday amid a vacuum of market-moving data, nudging Wall Street closer to the edge of a bull market.
The S&P 500 rose 10.06 points, or 0.2%, to 4,283.85. It’s just 0.2% away from finishing a day 20% above where it was in mid-October, as a long-predicted recession has yet to hit and excitement around artificial intelligence has helped a select group of stocks to soar.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged up by 10.42, or less than 0.1%, to 33,573.28, while the Nasdaq composite rose 46.99, or 0.4%, to 13,276.42.
This week has few top-tier economic reports and corporate earnings updates to help Wall Street answer its main question. It wants to know which will happen first: a recession or inflation falling enough to get the Federal Reserve to start cutting interest rates, which have climbed so high they’ve hurt various parts of the economy.
That’s why next week looms large. The U.S. government will publish its latest monthly updates on inflation, and the Federal Reserve will meet on interest-rate policy. The bet on Wall Street is that the Fed may hold off on raising rates, which would be the first time that’s happened in more than a year but could resume raising rates in July.
“What you’re seeing in markets is a reaction to a Fed that’s likely to pause when the economy hasn’t yet fallen into recession,” said Brent Schutte, chief investment officer at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management. “I think the unfortunate reality is for an overall recession.”
Some parts of the economy have already buckled under the weight of much higher interest rates, including manufacturing and the U.S. banking system. Schutte expects the job market to follow eventually, even if a report Friday showed employers unexpectedly accelerated hiring last month.
“I think the Fed believes unless they create labor market slack, they’re still worried they have to do more” with rate increases to control inflation “because the labor market is too tight,” Schutte said. “I think that’s what we call a recession.”
Some of the day’s strongest action was in the cryptocurrency world after the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Coinbase with operating its trading platform as an unregistered national securities exchange, broker and clearing agency.
Coinbase criticized the SEC’s approach to crypto, saying “the solution is legislation that allows fair rules for the road to be developed transparently and applied equally, not litigation.”
A day earlier, the SEC filed 13 charges against another huge crypto trading platform, Binance, and its founder.
Elsewhere in markets, oil prices gave up some gains driven earlier in the week by Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would cut production to increase crude’s price. A barrel of U.S. crude fell 41 cents to $71.74. A barrel of Brent crude, the international standard, sank 42 cents to $76.29.
Both were close to $120 a year ago but have fallen amid worries about a strapped global economy’s need for fuel.
On the winning side of Wall Street was Gitlab shares, which soared 31.2% after the software development platform gave a revenue forecast for the fiscal year that topped analysts’ expectations. It also said it expects to turn in a milder loss than Wall Street had forecast as it benefits from a rush into artificial intelligence.
A frenzy around AI has helped a handful of stocks soar this year, including Nvidia’s 164.5% surge. That’s helped drive much of the S&P 500’s gains in 2023, but it’s also caused critics to question whether a bubble is forming. They also say the furor around AI may be masking weakness under the S&P 500’s surface.
Even though the S&P 500 is nearing a bull market, almost as many stocks within it are down this year as worries remain about falling corporate profits, still-high inflation and much higher interest rates than a year ago.
Blunting some of that criticism, shares of many banks rose Tuesday.
They’ve been under pressure because the Fed’s fastest flurry of rate increases in decades has pushed some bank customers to pull their deposits and put them into money-market funds paying more in interest. At the same time, rate increases have knocked down values of bonds and other investments banks made when rates were low.
In the bond market, the yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 3.68% from 3.69% late Monday. It helps set rates for mortgages and other important loans.