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Nasdaq, S&P 500 hit record highs as payrolls data raises rate cut hopes

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By Saeed Azhar, Ankika Biswas and Lisa Pauline Mattackal

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Wall Street stock indexes closed firmer on Friday, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq and benchmark S&P 500 hitting record highs, as new data showing U.S. labor market weakness boosted expectations for interest rate cuts as early as September.

The rally was fueled by megacap stocks such as Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) which rose nearly 1.5% to end at a record high.

Meta Platforms (O:META) also scored an all-time closing high, gaining around 5.9% to push the information technology sector to a record high.

S&P 500 communication services was the top performing sector, reaching its highest level since 2000.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 67.87 points, or 0.17%, to close at 39,375.87. The S&P 500 gained 30.17 points, or 0.54%, at 5,567.19 and the Nasdaq Composite advanced 164.46 points, or 0.90%, to 18,352.76.

For the week, the S&P 500 gained 1.95%, the Nasdaq rose 3.5% pct, and the Dow climbed 0.66%.

Labor Department data showed U.S. jobs growth slowed marginally in June, and the unemployment rate rose to an over 2-1/2-year high, while wage gains slowed.

Investors expect the data could stir more active debate on rate cuts when the Federal Reserve meets later this month. Odds of the U.S. central bank easing in September jumped to 79% from 66% seen before the data, CME’s FedWatch Tool showed.

“This report puts the Fed in a comfortable spot,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities.

“If this continues next month, with no increases in hourly wages, then I think we’ll see a rate cut in September and another one in December.”

Data released earlier this week also pointed to the U.S. economy losing steam, helping the S&P 500 and Nasdaq notch record closing highs during Wednesday’s holiday-shortened session.

“We’re in this kind of stagflation adjacent environment – growth is moderating, inflation is staying where it is for the time being,” said Alex McGrath, chief investment officer for NorthEnd Private Wealth.

He said the environment is not great for small caps, which are sensitive to interest rates, but megacap companies are pumping out strong earnings which keep the market strong.

The Russell 2000 Small Cap index is down 0.95% for the week.

Major banks fell ahead of second-quarter corporate earnings reports starting next Friday.

Higher interest rates and an uncertain economic environment are casting a cloud over U.S. bank earnings.

Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan & Chase dropped between 1.2% to 1.7%, pushing the S&P 500 banks index 1.6% lower.

Macy’s (NYSE:M) on Friday surged 9.5% after a report said Arkhouse Management and Brigade Capital raised their bid to buy the department store chain for about $6.9 billion.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.04-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. On the Nasdaq, declining issues outnumbered advancers by a 1.05-to-1 ratio.

The S&P 500 posted 19 new 52-week highs and eight new lows while the Nasdaq Composite recorded 46 new highs and 162 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 9.73 billion shares, compared with the 11.57 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

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