(Bloomberg) — U.S. equities fluctuated after the release of steady if uninspiring figures for retail sales and as investors assessed contrasting data from China on how the coronavirus is spreading. Treasuries advanced.
The S&P 500 Index swung between small gains and losses Friday amid lower-than-average volume. Energy firms and financials slipped, while investors crowded into havens like utilities and real estate. Chains including Walmart (NYSE:) Inc. and Home Depot Inc (NYSE:). rose after U.S. retail sales climbed in January for a fourth straight month — though the prior month’s gain was revised lower — while consumer sentiment hit its highest since 2018.
“As virus concerns continue to linger, and presumably will be a focal point in the near future, U.S. retail health is largely immune from the virus, so we likely won’t see any impact on this data, especially this early,” said Mike Loewengart, vice president of investment strategy at E-Trade Financial. “What’s really important for investors to remember is that fundamentals are strong and our economy still continues to grow — debunking expectations of 2020 stagnation, at least for now.”
Oil held above $51 a barrel in New York, and the dollar kept close to its level versus a basket of peers after the retail sales data. Gold gained and the yen held steady.
The Index closed lower Friday but was up for the week. The euro steadied near a 2017 low after data showed the region’s economy grew a scant 0.1% in the fourth quarter, matching forecasts. Major Asian equity markets climbed except for those in Tokyo and Mumbai.
While Beijing reported a smaller increase in virus cases in the epicenter of Hubei versus the previous day, they were still more than before counting methodology was changed. That’s clouded the picture of the outbreak in a week that’s seen Chinese airlines put workers on leave and firms such as drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc warn of a tougher outlook because of the disease.
Nonetheless, investors anticipate a possible V-shaped economic recovery from the virus, even as the effects continue to be felt. Nearly 86,000 domestic and international flights in and out of China were canceled from Jan. 23 to Feb. 11. That’s 34% of scheduled services.
Hubei reported almost 5,000 new cases, a day after confirming nearly 15,000. The death toll in China was at 1,380, lower by more than 100 to account for some double-counting. The World Health Organization has said the surge in diagnoses didn’t necessarily indicate a spike in infections.
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