S&P 500 Touches Highest Level Ever

NEW YORK (AP) -- The S&P 500 is once again flirting with its record levels, on pace to wipe out the last of its losses caused by the pandemic, as stocks drift a bit higher on Wall Street Tuesday.

The S&P 500 was up 0.2% at 3,387.16 in morning trading. It's the fourth time in the last five days that it's climbed above its record closing high of 3,386.15, which was set in February. Each earlier time, the index faded back below that record level by the afternoon.

This is the first day, though, that the S&P 500 has risen above 3,393.52, which is the highest level the index has ever touched within a day's trading. It got as high as 3,394.99 within the first 20 minutes of trading.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 37 points, or 0.1%, at 27,807, as of 9:55 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was up 0.3%.

Trading has been very quiet in recent days, after a tremendous rally since March wiped out virtually all of the 34% drop the S&P 500 suffered earlier this year on worries about the recession leveling the global economy. Big U.S. companies are mostly finished reporting their earnings results for the spring, while investors are waiting to see if Congress and the White House can get past their partisan differences and agree on more aid for the economy.

It's mostly just retailers left in the S&P 500 to report their second-quarter results, and several continued the strong recent trend of delivering results that weren't as bad as Wall Street expected.

Advance Auto Parts rose 1% after it reported a much bigger jump in earnings for the spring than analysts had forecast. It said enhanced unemployment benefits and other aid for the economy provided earlier by the U.S. government helped its customers afford parts to repair and service their automobiles. It said sales grew at its established stores last quarter by the strongest degree in nearly a decade.

Walmart and Home Depot also reported better results than analysts expected. Walmart benefited from surging sales for its online business, as customers looked to buy necessities without having to go to a store. Home Depot, meanwhile, saw more people picking up do-it-yourself projects as the pandemic kept many working from home.

Their stocks, though, were more muted. Walmart waffled between small gains and losses and was down 0.5%. Home Depot slipped 0.8%.

Home Depot's report coincided with data from the Commerce Department showing a recovery is continuing for home construction. Builders broke ground on more new homes in July than economists expected, and at a faster pace than June.

It echoes other data that have shown budding improvements across the economy since the spring, as widespread shutdowns have eased. The worry, though, is that conditions could backtrack if coronavirus counts worsen or if Washington can't broker a deal on more aid for an economy that investors say absolutely needs it. Extra unemployment benefits for workers and other stimulus for the economy have already expired.

Other risks are also hanging over the market, not even including the continued spread of the coronavirus. The world's two largest economies keep ratcheting up their tensions, and China on Tuesday accused Washington of damaging global trade with sanctions that threaten to cripple tech giant Huawei. China added that it will protect Chinese companies, though it gave no indication of possible retaliation.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury dipped to 0.67% from 0.69% late Monday.

In Asia, South Korea's Kospi led regional losses, slumping 2.5% amid worries over surging coronavirus cases. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost 0.2%, Japan's Nikkei 225 slipped 0.2% and stocks in Shanghai added 0.4%.

In Europe, Germany's DAX returned 0.1%. The French CAC 40 slipped 0.3%, and the FTSE 100 in London dipped 0.4%.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 1% to $42.47 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, slipped 0.5% to $45.15 per barrel.

Gold added 1% to $2,018.90 per ounce.