Stocks hit all-time highs again on Wednesday, with the Dow hitting a new record for the second day in a row and the benchmark S&P 500 joining the blue chip index at a new record.
First, the scoreboard:
Dow: 17,912.6, +33, (+0.2%)
S&P 500: 2,074.3, +7.8, (+0.4%)
Nasdaq: 4,774.5, +18.6, (+0.4%)
And now, the top stories on Wednesday:
1. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve released its latest Beige Book report, an anecdotal survey of economic activity across the Fed's 12 districts which showed that an expansion of economic activity and employment gains are widespread across the Fed's districts. The report also showed that consumer spending advanced across many districts, aided by lower gasoline prices, with wage and inflation growth remaining subdued.
2. The Beige Book also contained commentary from professionals in the oil & gas industry, with the overall takeaway from the Beige Book being that while we haven't seen changes in behavior from these companies yet, everyone has noted the decline in oil prices. Growth in drilling activity was seen in Texas' Permian Basin, and while outlooks for next year were still positive, they were less optimistic than the prior report.
3. And despite the decline in oil prices, North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple on Wednesday proposed a two-year state budget that forecasts rebounding oil prices and a 23% jump in oil taxes. Dalrymple's plan expects daily oil production to rise 15% by June 2017. West Texas Intermediate crude prices settled near $67.30 on Wednesday.
4. Wall Street strategists continue to publish their outlooks for 2015, with BMO Capital's Brian Belski putting a year-end price target on the S&P 500 of 2,250, an 8.5% advance from current levels. Belski expects corporates to spend less on share buybacks and more investing in their businesses, which are dealing with equipment that is as old as its been in decades.
5. On Thursday, the European Central Bank is set to announce its latest monetary policy decision, and as has been the case over the last several months, the real focus will be on ECB president Mario Draghi's press conference following the decision. During Draghi's press conference, the market will look for any clues regarding the ECB's intention to expand its current asset purchase program or embark on a full quantitative easing program involving the purchase of corporate bonds, as some in the market expect the ECB to eventually undertake.
6. Friday morning will see the release of the November jobs report, and ahead of that report we got the latest private payrolls report from ADP, which showed payrolls jumped by 208,000 in November, less than the 222,000 that was expected by economists. ADP CEO Carlos Rodriguez said that, "Small businesses continued to drive job gains adding almost half the total for the month." Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics said that at the current pace of job gains, the unemployment rate will drop by 0.5% per year.
7. We got two pieces of service sector activity on Wednesday, with Markit's latest services PMI coming in at 56.2, showing that activity in the service sector expanded at its slowest pace since the spring. The Institute of Supply Management's latest service sector reading, by contrast, came in at 59.3, far better than what was expected by economists. But in a note to clients, Ian Shepherdson at Pantheon Macro said that the seasonal adjustment used by ISM is flattering the reading.
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