US Stocks Hover Near Records

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks are hovering close to their record levels Thursday, as Wall Street's momentum slows following its rocket ride higher on optimism about a coming COVID-19 vaccine.

The S&P 500 was up 0.1% after the first few minutes of trading and nearly evenly split between stocks rising and falling, a day after inching up to set another all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 79 points higher, or 0.3%, at 29,963, as of 9:40 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was up 0.3%.

In the bond market, Treasury yields were dipping despite a report that showed fewer U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week than expected. Economists cautioned the number may have been distorted by the Thanksgiving holiday, and it remains incredibly high compared with before the pandemic. Other stock markets around the world were mixed in mostly muted trading.

Momentum across markets has slowed after the S&P 500 surged 10.8% last month on hopes that one or more coronavirus vaccines will get the global economy closer to normal next year. The burst of optimism boosted stocks of travel companies, banks and smaller businesses in particular, after they were among the most harshly punished during the pandemic.

Now that stock indexes are back at all-time highs, worries about the still-raging pandemic are making further big gains more difficult. Governments around the world are considering the approval of several coronavirus vaccines, and a U.S. rollout could begin this month if regulators give their approval. Pfizer and BioNTech said they have already won permission for emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine in Britain.

But vaccines would initially go out only to protect health care workers and others at high risk. In the meantime, coronavirus counts and hospitalizations continue to surge. That has governments around the world bringing back varying degrees of restrictions on businesses and consumers worried about their own health. That, in turns, is threatening the economic recovery that got underway in the spring.

Across the country, the Labor Department said 712,000 workers applied for jobless benefits last week. That's an improvement from the 787,000 of the prior week, but it still towers over the roughly 225,000 workers that were applying weekly before the pandemic struck.

One hope that has flickered on and off in markets is that Democrats and Republicans in Washington may get past their bitter partisanship to reach a deal to provide more financial support for the economy. Democrats are making another push for a compromise and have cut their demands for the size of a potential rescue. President-elect Joe Biden urged Congress on Wednesday to pass a relief bill now, with more aid to come next year.

But Democrats and Republicans been arguing for months without much progress.

On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin underscored the importance of such relief during a House Financial Services Committee hearing. The economy has been struggling more since extra unemployment benefits and other stimulus approved earlier this year by Congress expired.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury dipped to 0.92% from 0.94% late Wednesday.

In energy markets, oil prices were lower as talks continue among OPEC countries on production levels. The talks are due to include Russia Thursday.

U.S. benchmark crude oil dipped 0.1% to $45.24 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, was down 0.2% at $48.16 per barrel.

In European stock markets, the German DAX lost 0.5%, and the French CAC 40 fell 0.4%. The FTSE 100 in London slipped 0.1%.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 was virtually flat. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.8%, Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.7% and stocks in Shanghai slipped 0.2%.