Summary

The three main domestic equity indexes closed out the trading day on Thursday, in positive territory, advanced in part by bank and energy stocks as investors bet on more economically sensitive sectors.

The energy and financial sectors led the day’s gains among the 11 major S&P sectors. Financials have gained 21 percent this year, as compared to a 20 percent gain for the S&P 500.

Energy, by contrast, has underperformed this year, with a 4.2 percent loss year-to-date, and some analysts suggested that Thursday’s gains reflected a rotation to stocks particularly responsive to economic growth.

Among the individual energy stocks, Chevron rose 3.3 percent. The shares earlier touched a record high of $125.35, after Cowen raised its price target on the stock by nearly a third to $160.

Congress approved a $1.5-trillion tax bill this week that will slash corporate income tax rates to 21 percent from 35 percent. Investors are hopeful that the lower rates will prompt companies to spend more on dividends and share buybacks.

Adding to the upbeat sentiment, third-quarter data showed that the U.S. economy grew at its fastest pace in more than two years, powered by robust business spending.

A separate report indicated a rise in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week, but the underlying trend in jobless claims remained consistent with a tightening labor market.

The utilities sector, among sectors likely to benefit the least from tax cuts, fell 1.2 percent, in a fourth consecutive day of declines.

Shares of Accenture rose 1.6 percent after the consulting and outsourcing services provider reported a quarterly profit that exceeded Street forecasts, driven by digital and cloud services business. The shares earlier hit a record high of $158.44.

Approximately 6.08 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, as compared to the 6.88 billion share average over the past 20 trading days.

Quarterly Growth Continues

The economy grew at its fastest pace in more than two years in the third quarter, powered by robust business spending, and is poised for what could be a modest lift next year from sweeping tax cuts passed by Congress this week.

Other data on Thursday showed a rise in the number of new claims for unemployment benefits last week. The underlying trend in jobless claims, however, remained consistent with a tightening labor market.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 3.2 percent annualized rate last quarter, the Commerce Department said in its third GDP estimate for the period. While that was slightly down from the 3.3 percent reported last month, it was the quickest pace since the first quarter of 2015 and was a pickup from the second quarter’s 3.1 percent growth rate.

It also marked the first time since 2014 that the economy experienced growth of 3 percent or more for two straight quarters. But the expansion in the July-September period likely overstated the health of the economy.

An alternate measure of growth, gross domestic income, rose at a 2.0 percent rate in the third quarter. GDI was previously reported to have increased at a 2.5 percent rate.

The average of GDP and GDI, also referred to as gross domestic output and considered a better measure of economic growth, increased at a 2.6 percent rate instead of the previously reported 2.9 percent.

Congress this week approved a broad package of tax cuts in what was the largest overhaul of the tax code in 30 years. The president is expected to sign the legislation, which has $1.5 trillion in tax cuts this week or early next.

A modest economic boost from the overhaul, which includes slashing the corporate income tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent is expected as a result. The fiscal stimulus will come while the economy is at full employment, which raises the risk of it overheating.

Growth in the third quarter was also boosted by an accumulation of unsold goods and a rebound in government investment. Growth in business investment in equipment was raised to a 10.8 percent pace, the fastest in three years, from the previously reported 10.4 percent.

Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy, was revised down by one-tenth of a percentage point to a 2.2 percent rate in the third quarter. Consumer spending increased at a robust 3.3 percent rate in the second quarter.

The government said after-tax corporate earnings rose at a 5.7 percent rate last quarter instead of the previously reported 5.8 percent. Profits rose at only a 0.1 percent pace in the second quarter. Undistributed profits increased at a 13.9 percent rate after declining for two straight quarters, suggesting that companies were anticipating deep tax cuts.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose by 20,000 claims to 245,000 claims seasonally adjusted for the week ended Dec. 16.

Last week marked the 146th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 number, which is linked to a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. Labor market tightness and a strengthening economy encouraged the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates last week for a third time this year. The Fed has forecast three rate hikes for 2018.

Last week, the four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose by only 1,250 claims to 236,000 claims.

The claims data covered the survey period for December’s nonfarm payrolls. The four-week average of claims fell 4,000 between the November and December survey weeks, suggesting another month of strong job growth.

The economy added 228,000 jobs in November. It needs to create 75,000 to 100,000 jobs per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population.