The S&P 500 fell a tiny bit on Wednesday, with Microsoft and other technology stocks making modest gains but not quite offsetting losses in energy shares after oil prices dropped more than 2 percent.
It was the index’s fourth straight negative session, the first such streak since March, underscoring uncertainty as the Senate attempts to reconcile their version of a tax-cut bill with that of the House of Representatives.
The Senate bill passed on Saturday included a last-minute change to retain the corporate alternative minimum tax, or AMT, which had initially been removed. Including the AMT could negate parts of the bill seen as beneficial to tech companies and other corporations.
Shares of Microsoft, Facebook and Google-parent Alphabet rose more than 1 percent as the technology sector recovered from a recent selloff. Meanwhile, crude prices hit two-year lows after a surprise rise in domestic inventories of refined products. This brought up the concern that maybe demand is falling. flagging. Schlumberger, Exxon and Chevron fell between 0.6 percent and 2.17 percent.
Fueled by strong earnings growth and optimism that corporate taxes will be reduced soon, the S&P 500 is up 17 percent in 2017. At the same time, the index is trading at 18.4 times expected earnings, the multiple’s highest level since 2002, according to Thomson Reuters Datastream. However, the thinking is that a decline in the corporate tax will increase corporate earnings and thereby result in sustainable stock gains.
Home Depot fell 1.12 percent after the home improvement retailer announced a $15 billion share repurchase plan. H&R Block rose 10.27 percent after the tax preparation service provider reported better-than-expected revenues.
Approximately 6.3 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, a number that was just below the 6.6 billion share daily average over the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Labor Costs Fall
Unit labor costs fell in both the second and third quarters of this year, pointing to very benign inflation pressures in the near term even as the labor market is close to full employment.
According to Wednesday’s report by the Labor Department, unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, fell at a 0.2 percent annualized rate in the last quarter instead of rising at a 0.5 percent pace as reported last month.
That followed a 1.2 percent rate of decline in the second quarter, which was previously reported as a 0.3 percent pace of increase. It was the first time since 2014 that unit labor costs recorded two straight quarterly declines.
The downward revisions would suggest that inflation could struggle to rise toward the Fed’s 2 percent target. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure is currently at 1.4 percent and has been below the Fed’s target for nearly 5-1/2 years.
Other data on Wednesday indicated private-sector employment increasing at a solid clip during November, with the manufacturing sector adding the most jobs in at least 15 years.
The signs of soft wage growth and tightening labor market conditions could further intensify inflation debate at the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting next week.
Compared to the third quarter of 2016, unit labor costs declined at a 0.7 percent rate. The increase in average hourly compensation was revised to down to a 2.7 percent rate from the previously reported 3.5 percent rate in the third quarter.
Separately, the ADP National Employment Report showed private employers added 190,000 jobs last month, though this was down from 235,000 jobs in October. The report is jointly developed with Moody’s Analytics.
Services-sector employment gains led the advance, with the largest increase coming in education and health services at 54,000, followed by professional and business services at 47,000. Manufacturing payrolls increased by 40,000 jobs, the most in the ADP series history dating back more than 15 years, while construction shed 4,000.
“The job market is red hot, with broad-based job gains across industries and company sizes. The only soft spots are in industries being disrupted by technology, brick-and-mortar retailing being the best example,” Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said in a statement. “There is a mounting threat that the job market will overheat next year.”
The ADP figures come ahead of the Labor Department’s more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report on Friday, which includes both public- and private-sector employment.