New Zealand Markets closed

Wall St rallies for fifth session

Noel Randewich

Wall Street has extended its rally into a fifth straight day in a session of whipsaw trading as investors responded to mixed comments by US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, while a warning from Macy's pummelled retail stocks.

Powell reiterated the views of other policymakers that the Fed would be patient about interest rate hikes. But major stock indexes temporarily moved into negative territory after Powell said the bank's balance sheet would be "substantially smaller," and after he raised concerns about the size of US debt.

"That's what spooked the market a little bit. It's more of a commentary on the entire economy as a whole," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin.

The S&P 500 is up over 10 per cent from a 20-month low it touched around Christmas, lifted by hopes for a US-Chinese trade deal, which eased some worries over the impact of the dispute on global growth. The benchmark index's five-day winning streak is its longest since September.

Trade-related optimism faded somewhat as China offered little in the way of details on key issues such as forced technology transfers, intellectual property rights, tariff barriers and cyber attacks.

In the US, reports from Macy's and American Airlines added to concerns that growth of corporate profits would slow.

Macy's stock plunged nearly 18 per cent and pulled down other retailers after the department store operator cut its same-store sales forecast for the full year because of weak demand during mid-December.

S&P 500 companies on average are seen posting 14.5 per cent growth in earnings per share as they report December-quarter results over the next few weeks, according to IBES data. However, expectations for growth in 2019 are at 6.4 per cent, down from an expectation of 7.3 per cent on January 1.

"It could be a good quarter, but maybe with more cautious outlooks until we get something that comes out of the trade negotiations," said Kurt Brunner, a portfolio manager at Swarthmore Group in Philadelphia.

"There is a lot of uncertainty there."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 0.51 per cent to end at 24,001.92 points, while the S&P 500 gained 0.45 per cent to 2,596.63.

The Nasdaq Composite added 0.42 per cent to 6,986.07.

Trade-sensitive industrial stocks rose 1.44 per cent, lifted by Boeing Co, which gained 2.55 per cent after the US Air Force accepted its long-delayed KC-46 air tanker.

American Airlines Group fell 4.13 per cent after the No. 1 US carrier cut its fourth-quarter profit and unit revenue forecasts. That weighed on other airline shares as well.

Ten out of 11 S&P sector indexes rose, led by a 1.55 per cent increase in real estate, with consumer discretionary ending down 0.23 per cent.

Volume on US exchanges was 7.3 billion shares, compared with the 8.9 billion-share average over the last 20 trading days.