US Stocks Finish Higher in Holiday-Shortened Session but Face Headwinds as COVID Aid Bill Remains in Flux

The major U.S. stock indexes ended higher at the close of a shortened session on Thursday as investors headed into the long Christmas weekend with hopes that a Brexit deal and the ongoing vaccine rollout will lead to brighter days ahead. For the holiday-shortened week, the S&P 500 edged lower, the Dow eked out a nominal gain and the NASDAQ advanced.

In the cash market on Thursday, the benchmark S&P 500 Index settled at 3703.06, up 13.05 or +0.39%. The blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at 30199.87, up 70.04 or +0.25% and the tech-driven NASDAQ Composite closed at 12804.73, up 33.62 or +0.30%.

Stocks Facing Short-Term Headwinds

While some investors are still betting on a Santa Claus rally the last few days of December, some see a clouded outlook due to the resurgent pandemic and the upcoming runoffs in Georgia that will determine the power in the Senate.

Investors were also eyeing the situation in Washington where the U.S. House of Representatives blocked President Donald Trump’s attempt to change a $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government spending package after Trump insisted on $2000 direct payments to Americans.

According to Reuters, the move cast doubts as to whether the package passed by Congress on Monday would be signed into law and raised the threat of a partial government shutdown.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that House Democrats would vote Monday on a standalone bill that would provide direct payments to Americans of $2,000 a person.

Mixed Coronavirus News

At the end of trading on December 11, investors were optimistic that the roll out of the vaccines would help steer the economy toward a faster recovery, but that thought came to a screeching halt last Monday when investors aggressively shed risky assets after reports of a more contagious variant of the disease sweeping across Britain. This story is not going to go away soon with officials warning the new variant may already be in the United States.

At the end of the week about 1 million Americans had been vaccinated against COVID-19, well off the 20 million by the end of the year that had been estimated. The big fear is the virus will spread faster than people can get vaccinated.

Sector and Stock Developments

Ten of the 11 major sectors of the S&P 500 posted gains, led by real estate. Energy was the lone loser despite an uptick in crude oil prices.

Shares of Alibaba Group dropped 13.3% on news that China had launched an investigation into the company as part of its antitrust crackdown.

American Airlines Group Inc said it was moving forward with plans to recall furloughed workers, even as forthcoming payroll protections, part of the stimulus package, was called into doubt. Its shares dipped 1.4%.

Moderna Inc said that it expects its coronavirus vaccine to be effective against a new variant of the disease discovered in Britain. Even so, its shares closed down 5.3%.

Altimmune Inc slipped 9.3% after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a clinical hold on the company’s application to begin human testing of its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, AdCOVID.

The Internals

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.53-to-1 ratio; on NASDAQ, a 1.08-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 7 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the NASDAQ Composite recorded 138 new highs and 5 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 6.14 billion shares, compared with the 11.30 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

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