NEW YORK — Stocks turned modestly higher on Wall Street in afternoon trading Wednesday, erasing an early slide and placing the market on course to add to its big gains this week.
A late burst of buying flipped the major indexes into the green. The S&P 500 was up 0.4% as of 3:19 p.m. Eastern, after having been down 1.8% in the early going. The benchmark index is coming off its best two-day rally since the spring of 2020.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 119 points, or 0.4%, to 30,436 and the Nasdaq added 0.2%.
The broader market is still bruised from its stumble in September, but investors have been hoping that signs of a softening economy may convince central banks to temper their aggressive interest rate hikes.
Wall Street is also preparing for the next round of corporate earnings reports to get a better sense of how hard the hottest inflation in four decades is squeezing businesses and consumers.
Technology and health care stocks helped lift the market. Oracle rose 1.7%, Exxon Mobil gained 4.7% and AbbVie rose 1.3%.
Losses in banks, utilities and other sectors kept the market’s gains in check. Bank of America fell 1.4% and Duke Energy dropped 2.4%.
Small company stocks fell, sending the Russell 2000 index 0.7% lower.
Treasury yields rose and applied more pressure to stocks after several days of relief. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which helps set rates for mortgages and many other kinds of loans, jumped to 3.76% from 3.61% late Tuesday.
The yield on the two-year Treasury, which more closely tracks expectations for Federal Reserve action, rose to 4.13% from 4.10% late Monday.
Energy stocks gained ground as U.S. crude oil prices rose 1.4%. The OPEC cartel of oil-exporting countries decided to sharply cut production to support sagging oil prices. Exxon Mobil rose 4.8%.
Higher energy prices, particularly for gasoline, were a big reason for inflation’s surge earlier in the year. Stubbornly hot inflation, despite energy costs easing over the last few months, remains a big focus for Wall Street. The Fed and other central banks have been raising interest rates to make borrowing more difficult and slow economic growth, but Wall Street is concerned that the potential solution for high inflation could result in a recession.
Investors are looking for signs that the economy is slowing enough to allow central banks a reason to ease up on rate hikes. Some signs this week included a tamer rate hike by Australia’s central bank and a U.S. report showing that the number of available jobs plummeted in August.
“We’ve heard about companies that while they’re not laying people off they are reducing the number of jobs available,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA. “So, the higher rates and higher inflation certainly are having their effect on hiring.”
Employment has been a particularly strong area of the economy and any signs that the hot job market is cooling could mean that inflation might follow. Analysts have said such hopes may be premature. A report on U.S. job growth at private employers came in stronger than expected Wednesday, as did a report on the services sector.
Wall Street will get a more detailed look at employment in the U.S. on Friday with the government’s monthly jobs report for September.
Stocks are “in the midst of a tug of war between reality and expectations,” said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.
The reality is that inflation remains hot while markets expect it has peaked and that the Fed will ease up on rate increases, he said. Trading will likely remain volatile because of that dynamic and other uncertainties hanging over the market.
“We need time for the pace of inflation to show it’s under control,” he said.
The Fed has said it is determined to continue raising interest rates until it is satisfied that inflation is under control. That resolve has been echoed by some central banks globally.
New Zealand’s central bank raised its benchmark interest rate to 3.5%, saying inflation remained too high, most recently at 7.3%, and labor scarce. The half-point rate increase was the fifth in a row by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand since February.
Yuri Kageyama contributed to this report.