Wall Street rises in volatile trading led by defensive stocks

(Reuters) – Wall Street rose in volatile trading on Friday, after two days of heavy losses, with the biggest gains coming in defensive sectors, showing concerns that slowing global growth and the threat of a U.S. government shutdown weighed on investors’ minds.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Bryan R Smith

The biggest boost to the Dow Industrials and S&P 500 came from Nike Inc, which jumped 8.3 percent after the company’s quarterly results beat Wall Street estimates on strength in North America.

All 11 S&P sectors were higher, with the biggest gainers being the defensive consumer staples, utilities and real estate indexes.

The smallest gains were in technology, industrials and the communication services index, which houses high-growth stocks such as Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc.

However, markets are expected to be volatile on account of “quadruple witching”, as investors unwind interests in futures and options contracts prior to expiration.

“We have a bit of a bounce, but it’s options expiration so I don’t expect the market to regain any substantial strength from the recent selloff. So volatility is probably going to be accompanying the movements in the market today,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.

At 10:21 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 359.06 points, or 1.57 percent, at 23,218.66, the S&P 500 was up 34.90 points, or 1.41 percent, at 2,502.32 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 53.72 points, or 0.82 percent, at 6,582.13.

The lag in growth names comes amid mounting concerns of slowing global growth, which were exacerbated earlier this week when the Federal Reserve said it would largely stick to its plan to keep raising interest rates.

Adding to the nerves was the turmoil in Washington, with chances of the government being shut down unless a funding deal is reached by midnight and as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly resigned after falling out with Trump over his foreign policies.

“The turmoil in the White House, the possibility of a government shutdown and of course the ongoing trade problem are rattling investors,” Cardillo said.

“Since now we are in a bear market, any rallies are not sustainable until we have capitulation, and so far we haven’t had that.”

The three main Wall Street indexes are already in correction territory, having fallen more than 10 percent from their record closing highs, and are closing in on bear market territory, when a security closes 20 percent below a recent high. While the Nasdaq came within a whisker of bear market territory on Thursday, other segments of the market, including the Russell 2000 small-cap benchmark and the Dow Jones Transport Average are already in bear market territory.

Economic data was also mixed, with data showing consumer spending increased solidly in November and an unexpected fall in orders for key U.S.-made capital goods.

While U.S. Commerce Department data showed the economy was on track to hit the Trump administration’s 3 percent target this year, momentum appears to have moderated early in this quarter.

Reporting by Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta

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