U.S. Stocks Rise in Shortened Session

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U.S. stocks edged higher Thursday, putting major indexes on track to finish the holiday-shortened week little changed.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 21 points, or less than 0.1%. The S&P 500 rose 0.2%, and the Nasdaq Composite rose 0.5%. The blue-chip index is flat for the week, while the S&P 500 is poised for a 0.5% loss and the Nasdaq is up 0.5%.

The stock market closes at 1 p.m. ET on Christmas Eve, and U.S. and European markets will be closed Friday.

Investors have been focused on a swath of issues this week, including the prospects for additional fiscal support for the economy and signs of the rebound faltering. Elevated coronavirus infection levels and a new variant of Covid-19 that emerged in the U.K. have prompted concerns that there may be additional lockdown measures in the winter months, weighing on market sentiment.

Markets are scheduled to close at 1 p.m. ET, and will be shut Friday for Christmas.



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jeenah moon/Reuters

“The market is so on edge at the moment. People are worried about more lockdowns, more travel restrictions,” said Altaf Kassam, head of investment strategy for State Street Global Advisors in Europe. “This will continue to bounce the market around.”

Bets that a fresh fiscal-stimulus package would offer support to families and small businesses in coming days have come into question after President Trump vetoed a $740.5 billion defense-policy bill on Wednesday and demanded last-minute changes to coronavirus-relief legislation. His unexpected criticism of the bill has prompted another standoff between the White House and Capitol Hill. Mr. Trump hasn’t yet said if he will veto the aid package.

House Republicans on Friday rejected Mr. Trump’s call to increase direct payments to Americans to $2,000, adding further uncertainty to the future of the package.

Weak recent economic data has bolstered hopes among investors that an agreement would be reached. Data released Wednesday showed that household spending dropped for the first time in seven months and layoffs remained elevated as a surge in virus cases weighed on economic recovery.

“The market is definitely expecting an aid package to go through,” said Mr. Kassam.

In bond marks, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note ticked down to 0.941%, from 0.953% Wednesday. Yields fall when bond prices rise.

Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 edged up 0.2%, with markets in Germany and Italy shut until Monday.

The British pound rose 0.7% against the dollar and 0.7% against the euro, as the U.K. and the European Union drew closer to a post-Brexit trade deal. Investors have said they would welcome greater clarity over trade relations. The U.K.’s stock benchmark, the FTSE 100 index, closed up 0.1%, while the FTSE 250, which focuses on small and midsize companies, ended the day 1.2% higher.

Sterling has rallied in recent days as investors expected that a deal would be reached. “The market already had this as the base case,” said Andreas Steno Larsen, global foreign-exchange and fixed-income strategist at Nordea Markets. “I don’t think anyone really believed in the cliff-edge scenario.”

Most major stock indexes in Asia closed higher. South Korea’s Kospi gained 1.7%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 advanced 0.5%. China’s Shanghai Composite dropped 0.6%.

Write to Caitlin Ostroff at caitlin.ostroff@wsj.com

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