US stocks reverse course, closing higher

Traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street equities broke a three-day skid, ending higher on Wednesday (Aug 24) as traders looked through mixed data to buy shares.

But investors remain focused on a speech on Friday by the US central bank chief at the Jackson Hole policy conference in Wyoming, hoping - but perhaps no longer expecting - to hear hints of a coming respite in aggressive interest rate hikes.

With inflation still at a 40-year high, economists and Federal Reserve officials have stressed that the benchmark lending rate will continue to rise.

Oanda analyst Edward Moya said the "Fed still has a lot of tightening to do".

"Today's rebound is small and on light volume, which means most traders are playing the waiting game until Fed Chair Powell's Jackson Hole Symposium speech," he said.

"Powell's fight against inflation might send the US economy into a recession late next year, but for now he needs to stick to the hawkish script."

What data there was did not push traders one way or another: a further drop in mortgage applications last week, which fell to a 22-year low, as well as another decline in pending home sales, confirmed the housing market is slowing due to rising borrowing costs and high prices.

And July orders for big-ticket manufactured goods were flat, but some components showed continued strength in demand.

A key inflation report on Friday ahead of Powell's speech, which is expected to show a sharp slowing of price increases in July, could provide more of an impetus, however.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.2 per cent to finish the day at 32,969.23.

The broad-based S&P 500 rose 0.3 per cent to 4,140.77, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.4 per cent to end at 12,431.53.

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