S&P 500 ends slightly higher ahead of Powell testimony, upcoming data

Traders work on the floor of the NYSE in New York

By Sinéad Carew and Bansari Mayur Kamdar

(Reuters) - The S&P 500 made little progress on Monday, closing slightly higher than its session low as U.S. Treasury yields pulled higher with investors braced for this week's testimony from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and the February jobs report.

Earlier in the session the indexes looked much stronger with the Nasdaq up more than 1% at one point before gradually losing its gains. The biggest boost had come from iPhone maker Apple Inc after Goldman Sachs initiated coverage with a "buy" rating.

But equities gave up earlier gains as yields on U.S. 10-year Treasury notes and the 2-year Treasuries yield came back from an early declines after data showed new orders for U.S.-manufactured goods fell less than expected in January.

Rising bond yields tend to weigh on equity valuations, particularly those of growth and technology stocks, as higher rates reduce the value of future cash flows.

Graphic: Correlation between S&P 500 and 2-year Treasury bond yields

"The market is in a holding pattern because this week will be key to shedding light on what's going on with the U.S. economy," said Irene Tunkel, chief U.S. equity strategist for

BCA Research in New York who will keep a close watch on February's U.S. non-farm payrolls report, due out Friday.

"People are worried about the jobs number and the economic data because they're worried about what the Fed will do. Ultimately all roads lead to the Fed."

And with potential Fed rate hikes their key concern, Monday's data had already dampened investor enthusiasm, said Shawn Cruz, head trading strategist at TD Ameritrade in Chicago.

"The market pullback was because there is still a lot of work to do on inflation," said Cruz. "We're not seeing the type of demand slowdown we need to see. The whole point of the Fed hiking rates is to slow down the economy."

According to preliminary data, the S&P 500 gained 2.72 points, or 0.07%, to end at 4,048.36 points, while the Nasdaq Composite lost 12.59 points, or 0.11%, to 11,676.41. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 38.69 points, or 0.12%, to 33,429.66.

The commodity-linked materials sector was weak on Monday after China set a lower-than-expected target for economic growth this year at around 5%.

The three main U.S. stock indexes had rallied on Friday and notched weekly gains after comments from Fed policymakers calmed jitters around aggressive rate hikes.

But San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President Mary Daly said on Saturday that if inflation and labor market data continue to come in hotter than expected, interest rates would need to go higher and stay there longer than Fed policymakers had projected in December.

Investors will look for clues about the Fed's future rate hiking path when Powell testifies before Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. Since Powell last spoke strong economic data and hotter than expected inflation have raised concerns the Fed will raise rates higher than expected or keep them higher for longer.

Traders expect at least three more 25-basis-point hikes this year and see interest rates peaking at 5.44% by September from 4.67% now.

Shares of cryptocurrency-related companies were volatile after Silvergate Capital Corp pulled the plug on its crypto payments network and raised doubts about the company's ability to stay in business.

(This story has been corrected to say that S&P 500 closed slightly higher than its session low, not slightly lower than its session high, in paragraph 1)

(Reporting by Sinéad Carew, Sruthi Shankar, Bansari Mayur Kamdar and Shristi Achar A in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi, Anil D'Silva and Richard Chang)