S&P 500 ends almost flat as record remains elusive

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 closed nearly flat on Friday despite coming close again to its record closing high, as data on the U.S. economy added to uncertainty over the recovery.

Aggressive stimulus measures have helped the three main U.S. stock indexes bounce back from a coronavirus-driven crash in March, and the S&P 500 briefly traded above its Feb. 19 record close of 3,386.15 for a second straight day on Thursday.

Friday’s declines put the record a bit further out of reach.

“Investors are taking a pause. We’ve advanced pretty far off of the March 23 lows, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty with regard to the overall economy, as well as the increase in case count that we’ve seen over the past month or so,” said Brian Price, head of investments for Commonwealth Financial Network.

“I think the market is going to tread water here for a little bit.”

Data on Friday showed U.S. retail sales increased less than expected last month and could slow further due to spiraling COVID-19 cases and a reduction in unemployment benefit checks.

Separately, readings showed that U.S. factory output increased more than expected in July but remained below pre-pandemic levels while consumer sentiment was largely steady in the first half of August.

Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 34.64 points, or 0.12%, to 27,931.36, the S&P 500 lost 0.56 points, or 0.02%, to 3,372.87 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 23.20 points, or 0.21%, to 11,019.30.

Adding to uncertainty, prospects of more fiscal aid have faded with the Senate and House of Representatives in recess and no fresh talks scheduled.

The upcoming U.S. presidential election is adding another layer of caution, along with continued outbreaks of the virus in parts of the United States.

Applied Materials Inc gained after it forecast fourth-quarter revenue above analysts’ estimates following a rebound in demand for chip equipment and services.

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