(Reuters) – Wall Street struggled for direction on Friday as inflation jitters and sagging technology and energy stocks offset an advance in the consumer discretionary sector led by Amazon.
Data showed that the U.S. economy slowed in the first quarter as consumer spending grew at its weakest pace in nearly five years. But a surge in wages in a tightening labor market and lower tax rates suggested the setback could be temporary.
“To me the biggest impact of inflation on equities is wage inflation. And that’s the real bogie when it comes to inflation,” said Chuck Carlson, chief executive officer at Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana.
The U.S. Treasuries yield curve flattened as the GDP data renewed bets that the Federal Reserve would continue hiking rates to keep inflation in check.
Wages and salaries increased at their fastest pace in 11 years, according to a report from the Labor Department, adding to inflation jitters.
As companies warn of higher costs eroding margins, markets have fluctuated as investors focus on guidance in the strongest quarter of profit growth in seven years.
“I think that most people thought the bottom line, the net income line was going to get a nice boost from tax reform; that has happened,” Carlson said. “But you’re talking about a quarter that’s already happened. And markets move in terms of what’s going to happen.”
At 3:37PM ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 24.11 points, or 0.1 percent, to 24,298.23, the S&P 500 gained 2.32 points, or 0.09 percent, to 2,669.26 and the Nasdaq Composite added 2.09 points, or 0.03 percent, to 7,120.77.
With more than half of the S&P 500 companies having reported first-quarter earnings already, 79.4 percent have beat consensus estimates. Analysts now expect first-quarter earnings growth of 24.6 percent, more than double expectations at the beginning of the year, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Amazon.com helped move the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq into positive territory as the online retailer’s shares rose 3.8 percent on the heels of a blockbuster earnings report. Brokerage firms have begun to value the company in excess of $1 trillion.
Microsoft was up 1.6 percent as the technology bellwether topped first-quarter estimates and grew its cloud computing services.
Following its profit miss, Exxon Mobil weighed on the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average, falling 0.9 percent.
Sprint jumped 8.3 percent following a Reuters report that the wireless carrier and rival T-Mobile were finalizing terms of a merger.
Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher and the defensive telecom and real estate sectors were the biggest percentage gainers, with 2 percent and 1.6 percent gains, respectively.
The energy index was the biggest loser, down 1.2 percent, led by the drop in Exxon.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.38-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.04-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 16 new 52-week highs and 6 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 52 new highs and 53 new lows.
Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by Dan Grebler