US stocks ended higher in a wobbly session Thursday as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a deal on the fifth tranche of the COVID-19 stimulus program was "just about there," and as initial jobless claims were lower than market expectations. Existing home sales also rose for a fourth straight month.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 0.5% to 28,363.66 and the S&P 500 was 0.5% higher at 3,453.49, while the Nasdaq Composite advanced by 0.2% to 11,506.01. Energy and financials were the biggest gainers while real estate and technology led the decliners.
Pelosi on Thursday signaled optimism on getting a deal done with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, setting the stage for more financial support for companies and people amid a worsening of the coronavirus pandemic in the US. The agreement will still need to pass in the Senate, where it may hit a stumbling block as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is focused on pushing through the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
"The market remains directionless as the US stimulus talks are still ongoing without a clear time table," a report from Commerzbank said.
In other economic news, initial jobless claims during the week that ended Oct.17 came in at 787,000 while the prior week was revised down to 842,000, the Department of Labor said Thursday. A consensus of analysts' compiled by Econoday had predicted an 865,000 headline within a range of 800,000 to 915,000. Continuing claims fell by more than 1.02 million to over 8.37 million from a downwardly revised almost 9.40 million, making a fresh pandemic-era low.
"Roughly half of the people coming off the continuing claims rolls this week did so because they had exhausted their benefits," a report from Jefferies said. "The other half either found a job, dropped out of the labor force, or hasn't yet accessed the extended benefits program."
In corporate news, shares of Align Technology (ALGN) surged by 35%, the most on the S&P 500, after reporting late Wednesday third-quarter adjusted earnings per share and sales that beat the market consensus. Among the top three worst performers on the S&P was Citrix Systems (CTXS), which reported a decline in earnings despite a jump in sales in the third quarter. Shares were down by 7.1%.
The West Texas Intermediate futures jumped by 1.6% to $40.68. In the precious metals markets, gold was 1.2% lower to $1,906.60 an ounce, with silver down 1.8% at $24.79 an ounce.
Among energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund rose 1.5% to $28.51 and the United States Natural Gas Fund was down 2% to $12.39. Among precious-metal funds, the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF was down 1.8% to $39.19 and SPDR Gold Shares were down 1% to $178.83. The iShares Silver Trust was also down 1.4% to $22.96.