Wall Street ends higher on trade, ECB stimulus hopes

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street advanced on Thursday, and the S&P 500 ended the session within striking distance of its all-time closing high, buoyed by positive developments on the U.S.-China trade front and a promise of continued stimulus from the European Central Bank.

Technology gains led the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq higher, while financials gave the biggest boost to the blue-chip Dow, which closed up for the seventh consecutive session, its longest winning streak since May.

Stocks rose worldwide as China and the United States made concessions ahead of next month’s planned talks in Washington, aimed at easing a trade war that has whipsawed markets and stoked recessionary fears for months.

U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to delay increased tariffs on billions worth of Chinese goods for two weeks after China exempted tariffs on a basket of U.S. imports and promised to buy more U.S. agricultural products.

“It’s good that (the United States and China are) talking and there appears to be less animosity,” said Stephen Massocca, Senior Vice President at Wedbush Securities in San Francisco. “The actual concessions that were made are immaterial, but the spirit they were made in is what the market views as more important.”

Investor confidence got an early boost from the European Central Bank (ECB), which promised continued stimulus to the ailing euro zone economy through asset purchases.

David Carter, chief investment officer at Lenox Wealth Advisors in New York, expressed skepticism about the potential benefits of additional stimulus.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

“At this stage of the cycle, we’re not sure if further ECB or Fed easing will have a meaningful fundamental impact given that rates have been so low for so long,” Carter said.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to cut key interest rates by 25 basis points next week, a move intended to head off signs of U.S. economic softening.

Such softening was not apparent in economic data released by the Labor Department on Thursday. Core consumer prices rose 2.4% in August, well above the Fed’s 2% inflation target and jobless claims dropped more than expected last week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 45.41 points, or 0.17%, to 27,182.45, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 8.64 points, or 0.29%, to 3,009.57 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 24.79 points, or 0.3%, to 8,194.47.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, all but energy .SPNY and healthcare .SPXHC closed in the black, with materials .SPLRCM and real estate .SPLRCR posting the largest percentage gains.

Industrial bellwethers Deere & Co DE.N and Caterpillar Inc CAT.N ended the session down 1.1% and 1.0%, respectively, after Wells Fargo downgraded their shares to "market perform."

Slideshow ( 4 images )

Shares of Google parent Alphabet Inc GOOGL.O rose 1.2% after Google reached a $1.1 billion settlement with French authorities to resolve a fiscal fraud probe, and following a legal victory over German publishers over fee demands.

Shares of Tocagen Inc TOCA.O plunged 77.7% after the drugmaker's experimental brain cancer treatment failed in a late-stage study.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.24-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.19-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 40 new 52-week highs and 1 new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 89 new highs and 27 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 7.51 billion shares, compared with the 6.79 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by Bill Berkrot