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Wall St gains as bank fears fade, focus on inflation data

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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., March 29, 2023. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Wall Street’s main indexes climbed on Thursday as fears of a banking crisis eased, with rate-sensitive realty and technology stocks leading gains ahead of key inflation data that could shape the Federal Reserve’s policy path.

Investors await the February reading of personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, due on Friday after January figures showed a sharp acceleration in consumer spending.

Data on Thursday showed jobless claims last week rose more than expected from the week before indicating a cooling labor market, while fourth-quarter GDP growth was slightly lower at 2.6% compared with earlier estimates of 2.7%, both supporting the case for a softer Fed policy.

“Despite the (GDP) downgrade, it’s still a solid showing despite rising interest rates and elevated inflation … but did show signs that the US economy was losing momentum,” said Tom Hopkins, Portfolio Manager at BRI Wealth Management.

Investors will also parse comments from Boston Fed President Susan Collins, Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari and Richmond President Thomas Barkin later in the day for clues on the central bank’s monetary policy plans following the banking crisis.

Traders’ bets are now almost equally split between a pause and a 25-basis-point rate hike by the Fed in May, according to CME Group’s Fedwatch tool.

Megacaps Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), (AMZN.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) rose 0.4% to 1.1%, lifting the consumer discretionary (.SPLRCD) and technology (.SPLRCT) indexes by 0.8% each.

Real-estate stocks (.SPLRCR) led sectoral gains, up 1.1%.

The banking turmoil, which started earlier this month with the collapse of two regional U.S. lenders, had sparked concerns about a broader financial crisis and led to a dramatic shift in monetary policy expectations from the Fed.

Despite the turbulence in the banking sector, both the S&P 500 (.SPX) and the Nadsaq (.IXIC) are headed for quarterly gains, with the latter on course for its best quarter since the end of 2020.

At 9:39 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) was up 148.06 points, or 0.45%, at 32,865.66, the S&P 500 (.SPX) was up 22.97 points, or 0.57%, at 4,050.78, and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) was up 73.81 points, or 0.62%, at 12,000.05.

Among other stocks, Faraday Future Intelligent Electric Inc (FFIE.O) jumped 1.5% after the company said it has started production of its first luxury electric car after a months-long delay.

Streaming platform Roku Inc (ROKU.O) gained 1.3% on plans to cut about 200 jobs, while Kohl’s Corp (KSS.N) climbed 6.9% after its chief executive officer bought shares in the company.

U.S.-listed shares of Alibaba Group Holding advanced 2.7% on report that its logistics arm has started preparations with banks for its Hong Kong initial public offering, while those of JD.Com soared 7% on plans to spin off its real estate infrastructure arm.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 7.33-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and 2.87-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded six new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 34 new highs and 28 new lows.

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