US STOCKS-S&P, Nasdaq back off early highs on stimulus jitters

26 Jan 2021 / 03:47 H.

    (For a Reuters live blog on U.S., UK and European stock markets, click LIVE/ or type LIVE/ in a news window)

    * Cyclical stocks slip, defensives gain

    * Tech, consumer discretionary sectors hit records

    * Dow down 0.28%, S&P 500 up 0.15%, Nasdaq up 0.43% (Updates to mid-afternoon, changes byline)

    By Chuck Mikolajczak

    NEW YORK, Jan 25 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks pulled back on Monday from early highs that included a Nasdaq record by afternoon trading as concerns over the timing and size of fiscal stimulus curbed optimism about the start of a week of earning reports from mega-cap companies.

    Investors turned their focus to the U.S. Senate, which is aiming to pass COVID-19 relief legislation before former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial begins in early February.

    Officials in President Joe Biden's administration are trying to head off Republican concerns that his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief proposal was too expensive.

    "We are trying to calibrate not just the amount but the timing of new stimulus, and both of those, side by side are almost impossible to analyze," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.

    "If you look at the market's reaction post-election, part of the ramp we have seen, and it's been pretty significant, has been on the back of likely stimulus and the timing, which is sooner rather than later. Now we have to reset our thinking."

    The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 101.65 points, or 0.33%, to 30,895.33, the S&P 500 gained 7.02 points, or 0.18%, to 3,848.49 and the Nasdaq Composite added 68.59 points, or 0.51%, to 13,611.66.

    After climbing as much as 1.4% to an intraday record, the Nasdaq gave back a good portion of its gains, with the so-called "stay-at-home" winners, including Microsoft Corp, Facebook Inc and Apple Inc, rising following upbeat results from Netflix Inc last week.

    Microsoft, scheduled to report results on Tuesday, rose 1.25% as Wedbush raised its price target on the software maker's stock on expectations of further growth in its cloud business for 2021.

    The S&P 500 sectors housing large-cap growth stocks hit record highs earlier in the session, including technology , consumer discretionary and communication services.

    Wall Street's main indexes hit all-time highs last week on hopes of a more complete economic reopening and smooth vaccine distribution across the country, which is suffering from more than 175,000 new COVID-19 cases daily with millions out of work.

    Earlier on Monday, drugmaker Merck & Co said it would stop development of its two COVID-19 vaccines. The drugmaker's shares slipped -0.11%.

    Sectors that have performed well on hopes for an economic rebound, such as financials, energy and materials, led declines on Monday, while defensive utilities, consumer staples and real estate outperformed.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.44-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.27-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 27 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 302 new highs and 4 new lows. (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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