Stocks march on; Treasury yields, dollar hit by weak consumer confidence

The University of Michigan’s survey showed consumer confidence falling to its lowest level since 2011 in the first half of this month. The decline marked one of the six largest drops in the past 50 years of the survey.

The unexpectedly weak reading could give Federal Reserve policymakers reason to pause on a decision over whether to begin

pulling back the extraordinary stimulus it put in place to shield the U.S. economy from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The renewed plunge suggests the latest wave of virus cases driven by the Delta variant could be a bigger drag on the economy than we had thought,” said Andrew Hunter, an economist at Capital Economics.

Pandemic-era stimulus has been behind much of the surge in stock prices the past year, but massive corporate earnings have given the rally new legs in recent weeks.

“If we look at the earnings trajectory, it still lends a lot of support to the valuations in the market,” said Yung-Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management. “Earnings season provided some comfort and stability.”

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 50 countries, hit a fresh record high.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.13%.

The S&P 500 also hit a fresh record high. Walt Disney was a star performer, climbing 1.43% after its earnings topped market forecasts.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 8.02 points, or 0.02%, to 35,491.83, the S&P 500 gained 2.21 points, or 0.05%, to 4,463.04 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 11.69 points, or 0.08%, to 14,804.58.

European stocks scaled new highs and clocked their fourth consecutive week of gains on optimism over a strong earnings season and steady recovery from the pandemic-led economic downturn.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index inched up 0.2% to a record high of 476.16, for the tenth straight session. The index has now matched its best winning streak since December 2006.

Not everyone is convinced the rally can continue, however.

“We feel a bit more cautious headed into autumn because of uncertainty on the health front, the Chinese regulatory front and the monetary policy front,” said Paul O’Connor, head of multi-asset at Janus Henderson.

Gold rose more than 1% as tapering concerns eased.

Spot gold added 1.5% to $1,777.91 an ounce.

U.S. gold futures settled 1.5% up at $1,778.20.

The dollar and U.S. benchmark 10-year Treasury yields weakened after the consumer confidence survey, bolstering gold’s appeal.

The dollar index fell 0.491%, with the euro up 0.56% to $1.1793.

Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 21/32 in price to yield 1.2985%, from 1.367% late on Thursday.

Worries about a regulatory crackdown in China and a surge in the COVID-19 Delta variant have sapped confidence in Asia, where markets mostly declined.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.56%, and was 0.8% lower for the week.

Chinese blue chips weakened 0.55%, dragged down by its local semiconductor sub-index, which slumped 4.1%.

Oil fell on Friday, but was on track to post a slight weekly gain, broadly shrugging off a warning from the International Energy Agency that the spread of coronavirus variants is slowing oil demand.

U.S. crude futures settled at $68.44 per barrel, down 65 cents or 0.94%. Brent crude futures settled at $70.59 per barrel, down 72 cents or 1%.

(Additional reporting by Evan Sully and Lindsay Dunsmuir;Editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Evans)

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