Stocks waver near records in the early going on Wall Street

Stocks are churning close to the breakeven line in the early going on Wall Street Wednesday as traders increase their focus on company earnings reports. The S&P 500 slipped 0.1% to trade just below the record high it set a day earlier. Travelers climbed after reporting results that beat forecasts, but United Airlines sank after reporting a loss of $1.9 billion. Meanwhile there was more evidence of the wreckage the pandemic is inflicting on the economy. The government reported that 900,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last week as employers cut more jobs. Treasury yields rose.

Global shares mostly rose Thursday on optimism over the new U.S. administration that earlier set off a rally on Wall Street.

Hopes are high that President Joe Biden’s administration will mean more support for the struggling U.S. economy, starting a recovery that’s crucial for the export-driven Asian region and the rest of the world.

France’s CAC 40 gained 0.4% in early trading to 5,648.29, while Germany’s DAX rose 0.6% to 14,003.82. Britain’s FTSE 100 edged up nearly 0.2% to 6,753.08. U.S. shares were set to drift higher with Dow futures up nearly 0.1% at 31,116.5. S&P 500 futures rose 0.2% to 3,850.62.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.8% to finish at 28,756.86. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.8% to 6,823.70, while South Korea’s Kospi edged up 1.5% to 3,160.84. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.1% to 29,927.76, while the Shanghai Composite added 1.1% to 3,621.26.

Data released by the Japanese Finance Ministry showed the world’s third largest economy may be crawling toward a recovery, as exports for December rose for the first time in two years, by 2% from the same month the previous year. Imports declined 11.6%, marking the 20th straight month of declines.

Japan’s economy, like many others across the region, has been slammed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has crushed tourism and dampened economic activity and trade. The Bank of Japan kept its easy monetary policy at its policy board meeting, as expected. Tokyo and other urban areas of Japan are under a state of emergency, as coronavirus cases have surged lately.

Biden took a flurry of executive actions in his first hours as president. He also pitched a plan to pump $1.9 trillion more into the struggling economy, hoping to act quickly as his Democratic party now controls the White House and both houses of Congress.

The hope on Wall Street is that such stimulus will help carry the economy until later this year, when more widespread COVID-19 vaccinations get daily life closer to normal.

“Most of Wall Street is assuming that the second half (of 2021) is when we will see pent-up demand start to show up in the economy, and that will push economic indicators higher and will likely cause a ramp up in earnings projections,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.

Gains for stocks have been accelerating since Biden’s election on enthusiasm about COVID-19 vaccines and potential economic moves. The bump for stocks between Election Day and Biden’s inauguration was bigger than Trump’s bump between his election and inauguration.

“The market is up more than 13% since Election Day,” Stovall said, noting that since World War II, the S&P 500 has risen an average of 3.5% in the first 100 days of a Democratic president’s administration, versus an average gain of 0.5% when a Republican was in the White House.

Analysts have been expressing concerns about pricey stock values heading into the latest round of corporate earnings, but they look more reasonable amid the backdrop of historically low interest rates, said Solita Marcelli, chief investment officer, Americas, at UBS Global Wealth Management. The low rates, along with new stimulus and the continued rollout of vaccines, will likely help bolster markets and the recovery.

“We think that global growth is going to continue to pick up,” she said.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude gained 26 cents to $53.24 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 37 cents to $55.71 a barrel.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar slipped to 103.54 Japanese yen from 103.76 yen. The euro cost $1.2119, down from $1.2134.