Wall St finishes topsy-turvy day higher, S&P snaps losing run

By David French

(Reuters) - Wall Street ended a topsy-turvy Thursday in positive territory, with the S&P 500 snapping a four-session losing streak, as investors grappled with how interest rate policy might affect the U.S. economy.

Stock markets have been volatile this year, pulling back in February after a strong January as investors tried to figure out what the U.S. Federal Reserve will do with interest rates. Hawkish comments from policymakers have been interspersed with data pointing to a strong American economy.

On Thursday, the Labor Department said the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, reflecting tight labor market conditions.

A separate report confirmed the economy grew solidly in the fourth quarter, though rising inventory levels were responsible for much of the increase.

U.S. gross domestic product increased 2.7% in the fourth quarter, according to the government's second estimate. Economists were forecasting a 2.9% rise.

"If you're a bull, you can pull out plenty of things that are supportive, and if you're bear there are plenty of things to point to that are supportive," said Jack Janasiewicz, lead portfolio strategist at Natixis Investment Managers Solutions.

"There are so many cross currents that are moving in very different directions, I think it's very difficult to fall back on one or two things. That's creating a lot of hand-wringing uncertainty, and we're range-trading as a result of it."

For part of the day, the S&P was trading below its 50-day moving average of 3,980 points, before rallying in the afternoon to finish above 4,000 points for the first time this week.

Influencing this intraday dip were large trades in short-dated derivatives that piled selling pressure on the market, according to Nomura strategist Charlie McElligott.

Helping provide confidence to buyers, Nvidia Corp posted positive earnings and surged 14% after forecasting quarterly sales above estimates and reporting a surge in the use of its chips to power artificial intelligence services.

Other chipmakers also gained, with Broadcom Inc, Intel Corp and Qualcomm Inc rising between 0.6% and 1.8%. The Philadelphia SE Semiconductor index climbed 3.3%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 108.82 points, or 0.33%, to 33,153.91, the S&P 500 gained 21.27 points, or 0.53%, to 4,012.32 and the Nasdaq Composite added 83.33 points, or 0.72%, to 11,590.40.

Seven of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors rose. Higher crude prices pushed energy up 1.3%, and the index halted a losing run at seven. This tied its biggest stretch of declines since an eight-session skid in March 2017.

Communication services was the biggest decliner, dropping 0.7%. This was its fifth straight fall, matching another five-loss streak in October. It was weighed by Netflix Inc, which slipped 3.4% on reports the streaming service was cutting subscription prices in 30 countries.

Among other stocks, eBay Inc recorded its biggest daily drop since Sept. 13, sliding 5.2%, after warning of dour demand in the first half.

Moderna Inc fell 6.7%, to its lower close since Nov. 3, after the vaccine maker reaffirmed its annual sales forecast of $5 billion for its COVID-19 vaccines despite its fourth-quarter sales exceeding estimates.

However, Bumble Inc jumped 7.5%. The owner of the eponymous dating app projected annual revenue growth above market estimates on optimism over rising paying users.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 10.43 billion shares, compared with the 11.59 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

The S&P 500 posted 7 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 59 new highs and 128 new lows.

(Reporting by Johann M Cherian and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru and David French in New York; Editing by Savio D'Souza, Arun Koyyur, Anil D'Silva and David Gregorio)