Wall Street Drifts Heading to Month-End

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks are drifting Monday as Wall Street rolls toward the close of another winning month.

The S&P 500 was virtually unchanged in early trading and on track for a fifth straight month of gains, which would be its longest streak in nearly two years. The index is still close to its highest level in nearly 16 months after rallying on hopes cooling inflation will mean the economy can avoid a long-predicted recession.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was also flipping between modest gains and losses and was up 13 points, or less than 0.1%, as of 10 a.m. Eastern time. The Nasdaq composite was 0.1% lower.

To be sure, critics have been saying Wall Street's seemingly growing consensus for a soft landing for the economy has come too quickly. Several reports this upcoming week could poke holes in the theory that inflation will keep coming down enough for the Federal Reserve to not only stop hiking interest rates but to begin cutting them early next year.

High rates undercut inflation by slowing the overall economy and dragging on prices for stocks and other investments. The Fed has already hiked its main rate to its highest level in more than two decades, a jolting shock after the rate began last year at virtually zero. A growing number of investors seem to be seeing it going no higher.

But big names in the market, such as Rob Arnott at Research Affiliates, are warning not to be "overly hasty in popping the champagne corks." Arnott sees the possibility of inflation rebounding again later this year, even though it's cooled considerably recently.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell himself has pointed to Friday's upcoming report on the overall U.S. job market as a key datapoint. Growth needs to be strong enough to keep a lid on worries about a possible recession. But a reading that's too hot could also mean upward pressure on inflation, which could push the Fed to get more aggressive about rates.

Two of Wall Street's most influential stocks are also set to report their earnings for the spring. Amazon and Apple are both scheduled to release their latst quarterly results on Thursday. Because they're two of the most massive stocks on Wall Street, their stock movements pack much more punch for the S&P 500 and other indexes than other stocks.

Both stocks have soared this year, in part on expectations for strong continued growth, and they'll need to deliver to justify the big moves. Both Apple and Amazon are up more than 50% so far this year.

Roughly halfway through the earnings reporting season, more companies than usual have topped analysts' profit expectations than usual, according to FactSet. Companies also seem to be more optimistic about their upcoming results, giving better-than-expected profit forecasts more often than usual, according to strategists at Bank of America.

"While economic uncertainty remains, we believe the profit cycle is inflecting higher," the strategists wrote in a BofA Global Research report.

ON Semiconductor rose 2.9% for one of the larger gains in the S&P 500 after reporting stronger profit for the latest quarter than expected. The company, known as onsemi, also gave a forecast for profit in the current quarter that topped analysts' expectations.

In stock markets abroad, indexes were a bit higher higher in Europe after data showed Europe's economy has grown modestly after months of stagnation.

In Asia, stocks rose in Hong Kong and Shanghai amid hopes Beijing will deliver more stimulus for the sluggish Chinese economy.

In the bond market, U.S. Treasury yields slipped after a report suggested manufacturing in the Chicago region is weakening a bit more than economists expected. Manufacturing has been one of the hardest-hit areas in the economy by high interest rates, which work with a notoriously long lag effect.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 3.94% from 3.96% late Friday.