Stocks trim back gains, as investors wait for stimulus

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Stocks were moving slightly lower in early trading Wednesday, as investors digested data that showed that showed the U.S. economy is in need of stimulus. Energy prices were steady after rising sharply the day before, due to the frigid weather that’s impacted much of the U.S.

The S&P 500 index was down 0.3% as of 10 a.m. Eastern, dragged down by technology and consumer discretionary companies. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down less than 0.1% and the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite was down 0.7%.

Two stocks in the Dow that were helping the index were Verizon Communications and Chevron. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment company announced it made significant new investments in those companies, pushing the stocks up 3% each in early trading.

The Commerce Department said U.S. retail sales soared a seasonally adjusted 5.3% in January from the month before. It was the biggest increase since June and much larger than the 1% rise Wall Street analysts had expected. The jump was largely driven by the $600 stimulus checks that went out to most Americans in late December and early January. The data shows that Americans are eager to spend cash on necessities, and aren’t saving the funds — which is the goal of stimulus checks.

It potentially means that additional stimulus, likely in the form of $1,400 checks in the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, will likely provide a necessary boost to the economy. Optimism that Washington will come through on trillions of dollars of more aid for the economy and encouraging company earnings reports have helped stocks grind higher this month, along with hopes that the coronavirus vaccine rollout will set the stage for stronger economic growth in the second half of this year.

“We’re keeping this economy humming despite the last several weeks, which have been really challenging,” said Katie Nixon of Northern Trust. “That’s notable, it’s a clue to what will happen if we get an additional stimulus package.”

The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped back to 1.28% from 1.29% late Tuesday, the highest level in a year.

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