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Wall Street ekes out modest gains, still falls for the week

The New York Stock Exchange is seen in New York on Feb. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks drifted to a mostly higher close on Wall Street but still closed out their worst week since December. The S&P 500 rose 0.2% Friday. Weakness in tech stocks pulled the Nasdaq composite down 0.6% while the Dow closed 0.5% higher. Energy companies rose with the price of crude oil. Stocks have been struggling since rallying at the start of the year on hopes that the economy could avoid a severe recession, and that cooling inflation could get the Federal Reserve to take it easier on interest rates. Lyft lost more than a third of its value following a weaker-than-expected forecast.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street is drifting on Friday as stocks head toward the close of their worst week since December.

The S&P 500 was 0.1% higher in afternoon trading and on pace for a loss of 1.2% for the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 140 points, or 0.4%, at 33,840, as of 3:05 p.m. Eastern time, while the Nasdaq composite was 0.7% lower.

Stocks have been struggling since rallying at the start of the year on hopes that the economy could avoid a severe recession and that cooling inflation could get the Federal Reserve to take it easier on interest rates. Since late last week, worries have risen that a still-strong jobs market could up the pressure on inflation and keep the Fed on track to keep rates at the higher-for-longer level that it’s been talking about.

Higher rates can drive down inflation but they also raise the risk of a recession and drag down investment prices. And central banks around the world are intent on tightening the screws further by raising rates further, even if at a slower pace than before.

“For most central banks the risk is that they have tightened too little, not too much,” economists led by Ethan Harris wrote in a BofA Global Research report.

“The ultimate gauge of success here is not avoiding a recession, but getting inflation on a path back to target,” Harris wrote.

Investors will get more updates on inflation next week when the government gives its latest monthly updates on prices at both the wholesale and consumer levels.

The worries about rates mean much of Wall Street’s action has been in the bond market, where yields have climbed on expectations for a firmer Fed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which helps set rates for mortgages and other important loans, rose to 3.74% from 3.66% late Thursday. The two-year yield, which moves more on expectations for the Fed, ticked up to 4.51% from 4.48%. It was at 4.08% just over a week ago and is near its highest level since November.

Companies in recent weeks have also been delivering a mixed set of earnings reports for the end of 2022.

Lyft tumbled 35.8% following its latest report. The ride-hailing company gave a forecast for revenue in the first three months of 2023 that fell short of analysts’ expectations.

Given worries about still-high inflation and a slowing economy eating into corporate profits, analysts have been cutting their forecasts for upcoming earnings for companies. So far this year, analysts have cut their expectations for S&P 500 companies’ first-quarter earnings by 4.5%, according to strategists at Credit Suisse. That’s a deeper cut than average.

News Corp. fell 8.1% after the owner of The Wall Street Journal and other media reported weaker quarterly results than expected. It also said it will cut 5% of its workforce in 2023 as it contends with higher interest rates and inflation.

Expedia lost 9.9% after reporting weaker profit and revenue for the latest quarter than expected.

On the winning side of Wall Street were energy stocks, which rose with the price of crude oil. Marathon Oil climbed 5.7%, and Valero Energy gained 5.7%.

Oil prices rose after Russia said it will cut oil production by 500,000 barrels per day next month. Western countries had capped the price of Russia’s crude over its invasion of Ukraine. Brent crude, the international standard, rose $1.89 to $86.39 per barrel.

Benchmark U.S. crude added $1.66 to $79.72 per barrel.

Sharp rises in energy prices are one of the two big risks that Yung-Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management, sees ahead for the market. That would send inflation higher and push the Fed to raise rates even higher than the forecasts Wall Street has just recalibrated to this past week.

The other big risk he sees is if growth in workers’ wages stays too high, which the Fed could also see as pushing upward on inflation and potentially causing a reacceleration.

“The Fed is more concerned with inflation staying down,” Ma said. “The market just wants it to come down. Once it comes down, the narrative is going to change: Will it stay down and allow the Fed to make a ‘dovish pivot’” by talking about rate cuts “or will it reaccelerate and cause the Fed to be on a longer-term inflation fighting mission?”

In the meantime, he said, “The best we can hope for is the Fed not raising rates too high and just being patient, letting them remain at that level for a while to see how things play out.”


AP Business Writers Damian J. Troise, Yuri Kageyama and Matt Ott contributed.