Wall Street ended the trading day virtually unchanged as inflation worries and struggling technology and energy stocks were offset by an advance in the consumer discretionary sector led by Amazon.
The S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq eked out small gains while the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day just into negative territory.
All three major U.S. indexes were down for the week at the end of a choppy session, ending two-week winning streaks.
Economic growth slowed in the first quarter as consumer spending grew at its weakest pace in nearly five years, according to the Commerce Department. However, an increase in wages and lower tax rates suggested the setback could be temporary.
The yield curve flattened as the growth data renewed bets that the Federal Reserve would continue hiking benchmark interest 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 face of the strongest quarterly profit growth in seven years.
More than half of the S&P 500 companies have reported first-quarter earnings already, 79.4 percent of which have beat consensus estimates. The current consensus is that first-quarter earnings growth will be about 24.6 percent, more than double expectations at the beginning of the year, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Amazon led the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, helping them close in positive territory with Amazon’s shares rising 3.6 percent on the heels of a blockbuster earnings report. Brokerage firms have begun to value the company at more than $1 trillion.
Microsoft was up 1.7 percent as the technology bellwether exceeded first-quarter expectations and grew its cloud computing services.
Following a profit miss, Exxon Mobil weighed on the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average, falling 3.8 percent.
Sprint rose 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, with the defensive telecom and real estate sectors posting the largest percentage gains, at 1.75 percent and 1.32 percent respectively. The decline in Exxon’s shares pulled the energy index down 1.2 percent, making it the largest percentage loser.
Approximately 6.13 billion shares changed hands on the major equity exchanges, as compared to the 6.62 billion share average over the past 20 trading days.
GDP Growth Slows
The economy slowed in the first quarter as consumer spending grew at its slowest pace in nearly five years, but the setback is likely temporary against the backdrop of a tightening labor market and large fiscal stimulus.
According to the report released by the Commerce Department on Friday morning, the nation’s gross domestic product increased at a 2.3 percent annual rate held back by a moderation in business spending on equipment and investment in homebuilding. The economy grew at a 2.9 percent pace in the fourth quarter.
However, the rate of growth in the first-quarter growth is likely not a true reflection of the economy, despite the weakness in consumer spending. First-quarter GDP tends to be sluggish because of a seasonal quirk. The labor market is near full employment and both business and consumer confidence are strong.
Growth will probably accelerate in the second quarter as households start to feel the impact of the Trump administration’s $1.5 trillion income tax package on their paychecks. The tax cuts came into effect in January.
Lower corporate and individual tax rates as well as increased government spending will likely lift annual economic growth to the administration’s 3 percent target, despite the weak start to the year.
Federal Reserve officials are likely to shrug off tepid first-quarter growth. The Fed raised interest rates last month in a nod to the strong labor market and economy. Minutes of the March 20-21 meeting published earlier this month showed policymakers “expected that the first-quarter softness would be transitory,” citing “residual seasonality in the data, and more generally to strong economic fundamentals.”
Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, braked to a 1.1 percent rate in the first quarter. That was the slowest pace since the second quarter of 2013 and followed the fourth quarter’s robust 4.0 percent growth rate.
Consumer spending in the last quarter was undercut by a decline in purchases of motor vehicles, clothing and footwear as well as a slowdown in food and beverages outlays. This likely reflects delayed tax refunds.
According to surveys, the tax cuts did not reflect on many workers’ paychecks until late in the first quarter. Income at the disposal of households increased at a 3.4 percent rate in the first quarter, accelerating from the fourth quarter’s 1.1 percent pace. Households also showed increased savings during the quarter.
Business spending on equipment slowed to a 4.7 percent rate in the January-March quarter after double-digit growth in the second half of 2017. The cooling in equipment investment partly reflects a fading boost from a recovery in commodity prices.
Investment in homebuilding was unchanged in the first three months of the year, reflecting a decline in brokers’ commissions as an acute shortage of properties hurt home sales. Residential construction increased at a 12.8 percent rate in the October-December period.
Government spending grew at a 1.2 percent rate, slowing from the fourth quarter’s 3.0 percent pace. Spending is expected to accelerate in the second quarter after the U.S. Congress recently approved more government spending.
Trade added 0.20 percentage point to GDP growth as rising exports offset an increase in imports that was driven by royalties and broadcast license fees related to the Winter Olympics. A weak U.S. dollar and strengthening global economy are boosting exports.
With consumer spending slowing, inventories increased at a $33.1 billion rate in the first quarter, up from a $15.6 billion pace in the prior period. Inventory investment contributed 0.43 percentage point to GDP growth after subtracting 0.53 percentage point in the fourth quarter.