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S&P 500 edges lower as investors hold their breath ahead of economic data

March 4, 2024 6:24 AM EST

Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Sinéad Carew and Ankika Biswas

(Reuters) -The S&P 500 closed slightly lower on Monday after a choppy trading day as investors took a pause ahead of economic data and Fed Chair Jerome Powell's congressional testimony.

Apple closed down 2.5% following a $2-billion EU antitrust fine for preventing Spotify and other music streaming services from informing users of payment options outside its App Store.

Rallies in chip stocks, including Nvidia, helped advance the S&P 500 to fresh intraday records during the session as investors continued to bet on demand for products powering artificial intelligence (AI) even though were broadly cautious ahead of economic data.

But the S&P 500, after turning slightly positive late in the day, started to lose ground again in the last hour of trading to fall back into the red in the last few minutes of trading.

"This is one of those days where investors are on hold for the economic data that's coming out later this week," said Burns McKinney, portfolio manager, NFJ Investment Group.

Investors were waiting for insights into the U.S. economy's health from key monthly data such as readings on the service sector, due on Tuesday, and non-farm payrolls data due Friday, according to Scott Wren, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

"The market is still trying to digest what the outlook is for the economy, earnings and the Federal Reserve," said Wren but he noted that both institutional and retail investors have some fear of missing out as they watch stocks hit fresh records.

"There's institutional money that can't sit on the books and watch the S&P 500 go higher every day and retail investors are starting to have the fear of missing out," said Wren. "Stocks are expensive but that doesn't mean they can't get more expensive before some kind of a pullback. Momentum is carrying the market and positive thinking is carrying the market."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 97.55 points, or 0.25%, to 38,989.83, the S&P 500 lost 6.13 points, or 0.12%, to 5,130.95 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 67.43 points, or 0.41%, to 16,207.51.

The S&P 500's communications services index was the benchmark's weakest sector, ending down 1.5%, while defensive utilities, which added 1.6%, was its biggest gainer for the day.

The Nasdaq had kicked off March by hitting an intraday record high on Friday, also closing at its highest level for two straight days, as the artificial intelligence-driven tech rally continues to steal the spotlight on Wall Street.

The S&P 500 has also been on a winning streak recently, jumping over 21% with four straight months of gains through February. BofA Global Research lifted its year-end target for the benchmark index to 5,400, from 5,000, representing a 5% upside from current levels.

Along with economic data, investors are also waiting for comments from Fed chair Powell, who is due to testify before lawmakers on Wednesday and Thursday.

AI server maker Super Micro Computer finished up 18.6% and shoe maker Deckers Outdoor rose 2.6% ahead of their inclusion in the S&P 500 index.

Shares in Macy's jumped 13.5% after real-estate-focused investing firm Arkhouse Management and Brigade Capital Management raised their offer for the department store chain.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.20-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.44-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 106 new 52-week highs and 8 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 194 new highs and 99 new lows.

On U.S. exchanges 12.69 billion shares changed hands, ahead of the 11.87 billion moving average for the last 20 sessions.

(Reporting by Sinéad Carew in New York, Ankika Biswas and Amruta Khandekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Aurora Ellis)



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