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S&P 500 briefly rises above record close as stocks drift

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street is drifting on Thursday, and the S&P 500 is again on the verge of erasing the very last of its pandemic losses.

The S&P 500 was 0.1% higher in afternoon trading at 3,383.64. Earlier in the afternoon, it briefly rose above 3,386.15, which was the record closing level it set in February before investors appreciated how much devastation the new coronavirus would cause for the global economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 37 points, or 0.1%, at 27,939, as of 1:06 p.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was up 0.8%.

Treasury yields were also holding relatively steady after a report showed that 963,000 U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week. It’s an incredibly high number, but it’s also the first time the tally has dropped below 1 million since March, before widespread business lockdowns caused a tsunami of layoffs.

Economists said the drop in jobless claims, which was better than the market was expecting, is an encouraging step. But they also cautioned that it could be more of an outlier than a trend, and more data reports are needed to confirm it.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury was sitting at 0.68% in afternoon trading. It was at 0.57% just on Monday.

Wall Street has erased almost all of the nearly 34% drop the S&P 500 suffered from late February into March, even though the economy is still hobbled despite some recent improvements.

Massive efforts to support the economy by the Federal Reserve and U.S. government helped trigger the rally, and investors are now waiting for Congress and the White House to deliver another round of aid after unemployment benefits and other measures in the last tranche expired.

Democrats and Republicans are still far apart, but hope remains on Wall Street that they’ll reach a deal on stimulus that investors say is crucially needed.

“The news out of D.C. has really been shrugged off by the market,” said Jason Draho, head of asset allocation for the Americas at UBS Global Wealth Management.

He said investors have also gained more confidence about a broader economic recovery as data reports continue to show steady improvements.

“There’s still a lot of weakness, but various parts of the data are showing improvement,” he said. “There’s a moderation, but not a reversal.”

Through it all is also the power of the Fed’s massive actions, which continue to support the market. The central bank has slashed short-term interest rates to a record low at nearly zero and has plunged into far-reaching corners of the bond market to keep lending running smoothly.

“It’s a crazy message to deliver to clients that the economy will struggle for at least the next couple of quarters while also being relatively bullish on corporate bonds as well as the stock market,” said Bryce Doty, senior portfolio manager at Sit Fixed Income Advisors.

Big Tech stocks were once again leading the way, with all five of the market’s biggest titans making modest gains. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google’s parent company together make up more than 22% of the S&P 500, giving their movements extra heft in the index, and each rose at least 0.8%.

Cisco slumped 11.2% for the biggest loss in the S&P 500, even though it reported better results for its latest quarter than Wall Street expected. It gave a forecast for the current quarter that fell short of analysts’ forecasts.

In Asian stock markets, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 jumped 1.8%, South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.2% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.1%. Stocks in Shanghai were virtually flat.

In European markets, Germany’s DAX lost 0.5%, and France’s CAC 40 fell 0.6%. The FTSE 100 in London dropped 1.5%.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 1.1% to $42.18 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, was down 1% at $44.96 per barrel.

Gold, which has been setting records recently, added 0.8% to $1,964.30 per ounce.