MARKET SNAPSHOT: Stock Market Fights For Flight As ADP Jobs Report Firms Rate Hike Expectations

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By Joseph Adinolfi and Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch

Oil prices continue to fall after crude supplies show a record rise

U.S. equity benchmarks on Wednesday were mostly higher, with the Dow struggling for a gain, as a stronger-than-expected report on private-sector employment helped bolster expectations for an interest-rate hike next week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded near break-even levels at 20,919, and has been bouncing around as a drop in shares of energy companies, following crude-oil futures sinking on increased inventories, counterbalance a gain in financial shares and consumer-discretionary stocks.

A decline in Caterpillar Inc. (>> Caterpillar Inc.) shares, off 1% and a 0.6% slide in Exxon Mobil Corp. (>> Exxon Mobil Corporation) weighed on the blue-chip gauge. Caterpillar shares were getting hammered after a report commissioned by the government accused the company of tax accounting fraud, according to a report in the New York Times. (

Meanwhile, the S&P 500 index was up about 3 points, or 0.2%, at 2,372 as weakness in real-estate stocks offset a strong showing in the financial and consumer-discretionary sectors.

Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite Index showed firmer gains among the three benchmarks, trading 25 points, or 0.4%, higher at 5,859.

David Meier, a portfolio manager at Motley Fool Asset Management, said banks, which typically become more profitable when borrowing costs rise, are benefiting from the perception that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next week. This perception has pushed up short-term Treasury yields to levels not seen since 2008 .

Stocks have risen dramatically since the Nov. 8 U.S. election, in part because investors expected that Trump would move swiftly to implement a slate of fiscal policies--including sweeping corporate tax cuts, a $1 trillion infrastructure-spending package, and a rollback of financial regulations--that he touted during the campaign.

But the postelection rally has stalled in recent days, in part because the Trump administration has pushed back the timeline for its tax-reform efforts and provided scant details about its other plans. Now, Republicans are squabbling over a plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare that was announced on Monday.

"What we're seeing is expectations starting to wither a little bit with regard to the timing of Trump implementing his agenda," said James Abate, chief investment officer at Centre Asset Management.

Investors are also waiting for the February jobs number, which is expected Friday. A weak number could dent expectations for a March hike, which rose sharply last week as a bevy of Fed officials signaled their support for raising rates, market strategists said.

"We're starting this week off pretty slowly and sideways and I think that the jobs number will end up deciding the direction of this market," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.

All three benchmarks closed lower on Tuesday , marking the first back-to-back decline for the S&P 500 and Dow industrials since late January.

In other economic news, a report on business inventories showed that wholesale inventories for January were down 0.2%.


Other markets: Stocks in Asia closed mixed , with markets stuck in a range ahead of the Fed meeting next week. Data from China showed the country recorded a surprise trade deficit in February , its first since 2014, following a surge in imports after the Lunar New Year holiday and a drop in exports.

European stocks were also mixed. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 index was down 0.1% as Treasury chief Philip Hammond detailed the government's budget plans.

Oil prices traded sharply lower as investors braced for data due later Wednesday that could show a further rise in U.S. oil inventories. Gold also moved lower, while the ICE Dollar Index was up 0.2%.

Stock movers:Vera Bradley Inc.(>> Vera Bradley, Inc.) shares dropped after the company released a soft forecast for revenue and profit and reported a 12% drop in revenue for the latest quarter.

Home-builder Hovnanian Enterprises Inc.(>> Hovnanian Enterprises, Inc.) shares rose after the company reported a first-quarter profit.

H&R Block Inc.(>> H & R Block Inc) reported stronger revenue growth than anticipated, and a smaller-than-expected loss.

Shares of produce company Calavo Growers Inc. (>> Calavo Growers, Inc.) rose after the company on Tuesday reported quarterly and full-year earnings.

Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. (>> Dicks Sporting Goods Inc) shares rose after the company said Tuesday that it was dumping a fifth of its vendors to focus on its own brands . in premarket trade despite RBC Capital cutting its share-price target to $61 from $65.

Stocks mentioned in the article : Caterpillar Inc., Vera Bradley, Inc., Exxon Mobil Corporation, H & R Block Inc, Hovnanian Enterprises, Inc., Dicks Sporting Goods Inc, Calavo Growers, Inc.

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