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Stock market today: S&P 500, Nasdaq hit fresh records to cap best February in nearly a decade

US stocks rallied to close out the best February for the S&P 500 (^GSPC) and Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) in nearly a decade as investors digested a crucial inflation reading.

The Nasdaq Composite closed up 0.9% on Thursday, finishing at 16,091.92, its highest close on record. This marked the first record close for the Nasdaq since November 2021. The S&P 500 added 0.5% on the day, to finish the day at 5,095.88, a new record-high. Meanwhile the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI) popped 0.1% on the day.

Both the Nasdaq and S&P 500 had their best February's since 2015.

An inflation measure closely watched by the Fed continued cooling last month, matching Wall Street's expectations. The Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) index grew 2.4% year-over-year in January, a decline from last month's 2.6% print. "Core" PCE, the measure most often mentioned by Fed Chair Jerome Powell, came in at 2.8%, down from 2.9% in the month prior.

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The looming release of the PCE index data — the Fed's preferred measure of inflation — had weighed on stocks all week. Policymakers have repeatedly stressed they want to see more signs of price pressures easing before committing to rate cuts.

Meanwhile, bitcoin (BTC-USD) held above $62,000 on Thursday after almost reaching $64,000 overnight. After a roaring rally — the likes of which haven't been seen since the run-up to the "crypto winter" of 2022 — the leading digital currency is still within range of a fresh all-time high.

LIVE COVERAGE IS OVER16 updates
  • Hat tip to AMD CEO Lisa Su

    I remember it like it was yesterday.

    I was sitting in a meeting room with former Cisco (CSCO) CEO John Chambers, just a casual meeting to see what he was up to in life after leading the networking giant. Rather than discuss where he was playing golf next, Chambers went on and on about then Cisco board member and AMD (AMD) CEO Lisa Su.

    "Watch Lisa Su, watch what she does over the next few years," Chambers told me (I still have the comment written down in my phone's notepad).

    The market has more than watched what Su has done since joining the former also-ran AMD as CEO in 2014. It has become a believer in the humble, focused leadership of Su and the results she continues to drive for shareholders.

    The company broke through the $300 billion market cap level on Thursday and is poised to tack on more gains today.

    Su refuses to play second fiddle in the AI chip race to rival Nvidia (NVDA), led by the black-leather-jacket-wearing Jensen Huang. Su isn't awe-struck by Intel (INTC) building chip factories in the US.

    She just gets transformational things done, period. And right now, that includes rolling out very powerful AI chips to supply an under-supplied market.

    "There are going to be multiple winners in this market," Su told me in early December. "I think there's a great growth opportunity for us; we expect to gain market share."

    That December interview from Yahoo Finance Live below.

  • Dude...you are getting a higher stock price for Dell

    New day, same old signs of a tech bubble.

    Shares of formerly sleepy Dell (DELL) are up 22% pre-market because it spent most of its earnings call last night talking about AI. Yes, the same Dell that sold you your first desktop computer in the 1990s.

    Scenes from Dell's earnings call:

    "We have positioned ourselves well in AI. We've already started to benefit from the momentum we're seeing. We saw strong demand continue for our AI-optimized server portfolio, including our flagship PowerEdge XE9680, which remains the fastest-ramping solution in company history. We have just started to touch the AI opportunities ahead of us, including broader adoption of AI by enterprise customers and the projected growth in unstructured data where we are well-positioned with industry-leading storage solutions." -Jeff Clarke, Dell COO

    "AI-optimized server orders increased by nearly 40% sequentially. We shipped $800 million of AI-optimized servers, and our backlog nearly doubled sequentially, exiting the fiscal year at $2.9 billion. Demand continues to outpace GPU supply, though we are seeing H100 lead times improving. We are also seeing strong interest in orders for AI-optimized servers equipped with the next generation of AI GPUs, including the H200 and the MI300X." -Jeff Clarke

    The hyper AI-infused Dell call prompted this report headline from JP Morgan analyst Samik Chatterjee:

    "Just What the Investors Ordered With AI-Led ISG Acceleration; Raise Estimates and PT"

    I guess nothing more to see here — Dell apparently is no longer a PC seller, but an AI beast that is going to change the world alongside Nvidia (NVDA)!

    Welcome to the bubble, friends.

  • S&P 500, Nasdaq post best February since 2015

    US stocks rallied to close out the best February for the S&P 500 (^GSPC) and Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) in nearly a decade as investors digested a crucial inflation reading.

    The Nasdaq Composite closed up 0.9% on Thursday, finishing at 16,091.92, its highest close on record. This marked the first record close for the Nasdaq since November 2021. The S&P 500 added 0.5% on the day to finish the day at 5,095.88, a new record high. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI) popped 0.1% on the day.

    Both the Nasdaq and S&P 500 had their best February since 2015. For the month, the Nasdaq gained more than 6% while the S&P 500 added more than 5%.

  • Earnings outlook holding up for first quarter

    Earnings season is just about over.

    With 97% of the S&P 500 done reporting earnings for the fourth quarter, the S&P 500 is projected to have earnings growth of 4% in the fourth quarter compared to the same period a year prior, per new FactSet data. This marks the second consecutive quarter of earnings growth for the benchmark index.

    And, notably, the outlook for earnings growth in the current quarter isn't deteriorating at its normal pace.

    FactSet senior earnings analyst John Butters noted that analysts usually reduce earnings estimates through the first two months of a quarter. During the past 20 years, earnings have typically been revised down by an average of 2.9%. For the current quarter those earnings estimates have been revised down by just 2.2%.

  • Bold promises from another hot AI trade

    The AI hype train is rolling right along.

    AI bulls scooped up shares of C3.ai (AI) on Thursday, sending shares to a six-month high.

    The software firm — a big beneficiary of the GenAI boom — reported better-than-expected revenue for its fiscal third quarter and issued strong full-year guidance late Wednesday. Total revenue for the quarter jumped 18% from the prior year to $78.4 million, driven in part by a 23% jump in subscription revenue.

    Customer engagement grew 80% year over year.

    The company is leveraging its "first mover advantage" as it capitalizes on the "largest opportunity in the history of enterprise application software," according to C3.ai CEO and tech OG Tom Siebel.

    “It's difficult to overestimate the power and impact of AI,” Siebel told Yahoo Finance Live today. “We’re in the first half of the first inning of the first batter on his way to the plate. This is not ephemeral, it’s very significant, and it's going to be huge.”

    C3.ai’s federal business continues to be a standout, Siebel added. The company added 20 new federal agreements in the quarter, and total bookings rose 187% from a year ago.

    In case you were wondering ...shares are up 27% year to date, lagging a mere 65% gain for Nvidia (NVDA).

  • Budweiser shares still lacking fizz

    Gone flat.

    Shares of Bud Light's parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) are under pressure today, down more than 4%, after the beer giant posted a fourth quarter profit and record revenue for the full year, but has yet to see a volume recovery.

    Volume declined 2.6% last quarter, compared with the 1.48% drop that Wall Street anticipated. Beer brands such as Bud Light pulled the total volume number lower.

    In the US, fourth quarter revenue came in 17.3% lower year over year as sales to retailers fell 12.1% due to the poor performance of Bud Light.

    March 4 marks 11 months since a marketing campaign with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney sparked a widespread boycott of the brand. Bud Light subsequently lost its crown as America's favorite beer to Modelo in May.

    On a call with analysts, CEO Michel Doukeris called it a "challenging year" for the US business. "Our market share continued to improve gradually from May through the most recent weeks in February," he said.

    The Street agrees with the call out on challenges.

    “Soft volumes in the US highlight the persistent damage to the brand despite recent marketing initiatives (UFC, PBR, etc). Guidance looks cautious / realistic to many,” said Bernstein analyst Ivan Holman in a client note.

  • Markets resilient amid firm inflation data

    The latest reading of the the Fed's preferred inflation gauge logged its lowest annual increase since March 2021 in January, matching Wall Street forecasts, while monthly prices rose at the fastest rate in a year.

    The 0.4% monthly increase seen in January's Personal Consumption Expenditures index pushed the six-month annualized inflation reading above the Fed's 2% target for the first time since October.

    But this didn't appear to spook markets, which have swiftly repriced for just three Federal Reserve interest rate cuts since a hotter-than-expected Consumer Price Index (CPI) report was released in mid-February.

    Both the S&P 500 (^GSPC) and Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) were in the green during afternoon trade.

    State Street SPDR chief investment strategist Michael Arone told Yahoo Finance this is likely because Thursday's inflation print reaffirms the broader narrative that core inflation, on a year-over-year basis, is falling.

    "Today's PCE data continues to show the Feds preferred measure of inflation core PCE continues to inch closer and closer to the 2% target," Arone said. "And that's partly why investors are celebrating."

  • Best Buy move on the overdone side?

    Disconnected from reality.

    What stock is up almost 4% today — and now 6.5% for the year — despite another quarter of dreadful results for several different reasons? You guessed it (or maybe not), electronics retailer Best Buy (BBY).

    The company did everything in its power for investors to hate the quarter.

    Massive sales drops (again) in its three most important business segments: computing, consumer electronics, and appliances. US comparable sales tanked 5.1% on top of a 9.6% decline a year ago.

    Best Buy guided to full-year earnings of $5.75 to $6.20 a share, below consensus for $6.16 a share. The earnings call wasn't that awe-inspiring, or signaling of a major sales trend change in the medium term.

    I guess investors are viewing the results as it could have been worse, and maybe things can't get much worse from here.

    To that, I want to shed light on what Whirlpool (WHR) CEO Marc Bitzer told me below this week on Yahoo Finance Live. Seeing as Whirlpool sells products at Best Buy, what Bitzer details on the state of the housing market and consumers suggests Best Buy's stock move today is too much, too soon.

    While I have you, here is what HP Inc. (HPQ) CEO Enrique Lores told me after earnings last night. They sell computers at Best Buy, a challenging dynamic that is likely to persist for now until consumers opt to spend on upgrades.

  • Trending tickers on Thursday

    Snowflake (SNOW)

    Snowflake stock is down nearly 20% after the data cloud giant posted quarterly results that beat analysts estimates, but product revenue guidance came in lower than expected. The company's full-year outlook also came in below expectations.

    Snowflake also announced Frank Slootman will step down as CEO but remain on the board. Slootman will be replaced by senior vice president of AI, Sridhar Ramaswamy.

    Advanced Micro Devices (AMD)

    Shares of the chipmaker were trading 5% higher on Thursday, touching 52-week highs. Semiconductors have been on fire recently amid continued enthusiasm over artificial intelligence. A recent bullish note from Citi analysts also talked up the semiconductor sector, mentioning Nvidia (NVDA), Advanced Micro Devices, and Broadcom (AVGO).

    C3.ai (AI)

    Shares popped more than 20% after the data and analysis software firm posted better-than-expected revenue. C3.ai sales surged 18% to reach $78.4 million in its latest quarter, beating Wall Street estimates of $76.1 million.

    The company gained notable attention in early 2023, when shares soared amid the start of an AI frenzy. Short interest in the stock currently sits at around 33% of the float.

  • Bitcoin holds above $62,000, lifts crypto sector

    Bitcoin (BTC-USD) hovered above $62,000 as the cryptocurrency's rally continues. The token's surge has broadened out to other corners of the crypto sector as ethereum (ETH-USD) gained more than 1%, trading above $3,400.

    Just two days ago, bitcoin was trading for just above $51,000 before breaking out. On Wednesday it neared $64,000, inching towards record levels not seen since November 2021.

    Bitcoin is up more than 20% over the past seven days.

  • January inflation data sets stage for 'gradual' interest rate cuts

    The Fed's preferred inflation gauge logged its lowest annual increase since March 2021 in January, matching Wall Street forecasts, while monthly prices rose at the fastest rate in a year.

    The core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) index, which strips out the cost of food and energy and is closely watched by the Federal Reserve, rose 2.8% over the prior year in January, the slowest annual increase since a 2.2% increase in March 2021.

    Compared to the prior month, core PCE rose 0.4%, the most since January 2023 and an increase from the 0.1% increase seen in December. The monthly increase marked a stark shift in the inflation data.

    Prior to Thursday's release, the six-month annualized rate of price increases had been below the Fed's 2% goal for two consecutive months. After the January data, the six-month annualized PCE price increase is 2.5%.

    While January's data brought a notable move higher in the monthly data, economists don't believe the overall inflation story for the Fed has completely changed.

    "Fed officials have signaled they do not need better news on inflation to cut rates, just continued good news," Oxford Economics deputy chief US economist Michael Pearce wrote in a note to clients. "With the trend in inflation still downward, gradual rate cuts this year are still on the table."

  • Chip stocks lead Nasdaq higher

    Chip stocks led the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) higher on Thursday after a key inflation gauge came in line with Wall Street expectations, easing market concerns that the Federal Reserve would be forced to further delay rate cuts.

    AI darling Nvidia (NVDA) stock gained 2%, while peer AMD (AMD) hit 52-week highs. ARM (ARM) shares gained about 5%.

    Super Micro Computer (SMCI) was up 8%. The stock is up more than 200% year to-date.

    The Nasdaq Composite was outperforming the other major averages on Thursday, up about 0.5%.

     

  • AMC CEO cuts his pay by 25%, says 'I feel your pain' on stock losses

    AMC (AMC) CEO Adam Aron said he would cut his compensation following the cinema operator's latest quarterly results as shares hover near all-time lows.

    On Thursday, the stock sank more than 11%, trading near $4.40 each. Shares are down more than 90% over the past year.

    Aron highlighted he hasn't sold any of his shares in more than two years, and as the largest retail shareholder of AMC, he has lost "tens of millions" in the value of his holdings.

    "In my stock losses, I share in your frustration. I feel your pain, and I'm heavily incentivized to get the value of your AMC shares back on the right track," he said during the company's earnings call with analysts on Wednesday.

    Aron said he asked the board to cut his target compensation "substantially" for the next twelve months.

    "Based on the company's financial results, the board and I agreed that my target compensation will go down right now as we move forward by 25% versus the previous year's target," said Aron.

    AMC stock has been on a downward spiral as the theater chain has repeatedly sold shares in order to raise money amid a mountain of debt, a move that Aron defended during the call.

    "We did in dilution what was absolutely vital for your company to do to get through the many challenges that have been thrown our way," he said.

  • Stocks edge higher after key inflation gauge comes in line with forecasts

    Stocks opened higher on Thursday after the Federal Reserve's preferred inflation gauge came in line with Wall Street expectations.

    The Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI) rose slightly, while the S&P 500 (^GSPC) gained about 0.3% after the report's release. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) gained about 0.7%.

    The core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) index, which strips out the costs of food and energy, rose 2.8% over the prior year in January, the slowest annual increase since a 2.2% increase in March 2021.

    The reading had weighed on stocks throughout the week as Fed officials have repeatedly said they want to see more signs of price pressures easing before cutting rates.

  • Watch for a reversal in Salesforce

    One for your watch list.

    There has been some initial profit-taking in Salesforce (CRM) after earnings last night. It makes sense: Expectations were very high going into the results, and the stock has gone up in a straight line since the late 2022 lows. There has also been some morning chatter on Salesforce disappointing with its sales guidance, which was 1%-2% below consensus.

    To me, CRM could be ripe for a reversal after another impressive earnings call from co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff. He teed up a potential stock-moving event next week for the company in San Francisco, which is slated to feature the introduction of more AI tools.

    A few other possible catalysts for your notes:

    • The company announced a new $10 billion stock buyback plan.

    • The company enacted its first-ever dividend, following in the steps of Meta (META) in being an older tech play getting into the dividend game at long last.

    • The company has driven a lot of operating margin expansion over the last twelve months — it guided to another 200 basis points of it over the next twelve months.

  • Come on, Snowflake — what a terrible job here

    On my list for a slamming today is super-hyped cloud play Snowflake (SNOW).

    So I was driving home last night and heard Snowflake's CEO Frank Slootman — a mega gazillionaire who loves sailing yachts but is also a master at building tech businesses — doing an interview with a YF competitor. On with him is someone I never heard of before, Sridhar Ramaswamy, who was being described as the incoming CEO of Snowflake.

    My first reaction was, "Wait — how did I miss this tonight, and why was I paying so much attention to Salesforce's earnings?"

    I slammed the brakes on my new car and pulled off from the busy highway to watch the interview (yes, for real), where I found two smiling execs yucking it up with the host. The host suggested Slootman signaled strongly to him in a not-so-distant past conversation that he was going to step down.

    Memo to Frank and to the entire Snowflake board: You did a terrible job signaling this was coming in any form. And now the average investor (who doesn't have access to Frank Slootman) is left holding the bag on a super-hyped tech stock — shares are crashing more than 23% as of this writing.

    The Street was generally shocked here.

    "Snowflake surprised investors on a number of fronts last night: its tremendously successful CEO is retiring effective immediately after he said he wasn't going anywhere just 7 months ago," Guggenheim analyst John Difuci wrote in a client note.

    Stifel analyst Brad Reback also called Slootman's exit a "surprise."

    Bottom line: CEOs have a responsibility to signal when they may no longer want the top job, either because they are burned out, want to play golf, or are keen on buying another yacht. And it's the board's job to ensure this process is handled first-rate, from external communications to internal communications.

    If it isn't handled right, you could get Slootmanned, excuse me, and experience a sharp stock sell-off because of a surprise shift in the C-suite.