UPDATE: Wall Street inches higher, preserving weekly gains

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Dow takes worst hit of 2021, , falls by more than 700 points.The 2.7 percent drop that shook the Dow on July 19 is thought to represent investor reaction ... .... to news that the Delta variant has led to spikes of COVID-19 cases all over the U.S. .It was the most significant drop since Oct. of last year, when stocks fell 943 points.Shares of cruise and airline companies took the deepest hit as fears of a slower economic recovery spread.More concerning for analysts than a drop in stocks are possibilities of stagflations, .which is when economic growth slows in tandem with rising inflation.Fear of stagflation will be a major concern for investors if a resurgence in Covid infections causes economies to slow while consumer prices continue an upward trajectory, Peter Essele, Commonwealth Financial Network, via CNN.Investors recognize that stocks remain close to record highs, up nearly 10 percent this year overall.We do not expect a return to complete shut downs in the US so while the damage from the Delta variant can be significant, we are still in the 'buy the dip' camp, Bryce Doty, Sit Fixed Income Associates, via CNN

Stocks eked out modest gains on Wall Street Thursday, extending the market’s winning streak into a third day and keeping the major indexes on pace to end the week higher.

The S&P 500 shrugged off a midday slide and rose 0.2%. Banks, energy companies and industrial stocks weighed on the benchmark index, though solid gains by Apple, Microsoft and other big technology stocks helped nudge the index up.

Trading was mostly muted as investors reviewed the latest corporate earnings and a surprise increase in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits. Still, the gains preserve stock indexes’ comeback following a sharp sell-off to start the week.

“The market is trying to come to terms with the big sell-off on Monday,” said David Joy, chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial. “We’ve had a rebound that allowed us to recapture a lot of it yesterday, and today it seems as though the market is searching for the next directional catalyst, and hasn’t really found one.”

Joy said the next big market-moving event could come as early as next Wednesday, when Federal Reserve policymakers hold their next two-day meeting. A key question: Will the central bank provide new hints about when it might begin to unwind some of the support that’s helped keep the economy going during the pandemic now that inflation is on the rise.

The S&P 500 index rose 8.79 points to 4,367.48. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 25.35 points, or 0.1%, to 34,823.35. The Nasdaq composite gained 52.64 points, or 0.4%, to 14,684.60. All three indexes remain close to the all-time highs they set early last week.

Wall Street’s smallest companies lost ground. The Russell 2000 index fell 34.57 points, or 1.5%, to 2,199.48.

The Labor Department reported that unemployment claims rose last week to 419,000, the most in two months and more than economists were expecting. Economists characterized last week’s increase as most likely a blip caused by some one-time factors and partly a result of the inevitable bumpiness in the week-to-week data.

That said, investors have been nervous about how well the economy is recovering after the pandemic along with lingering concerns that the delta variant of COVID-19, which is spreading rapidly across the country, may cause businesses and cities to put restrictions into place yet again.

The 10-year Treasury note traded at a yield of 1.26% Thursday, down from 1.28% the day before. While the benchmark yield has recovered from its low yields earlier in the week, it continues to trade at relatively low levels given that the economy is in a recovery.

The lower yields weighed on banks, which can charge higher interest on loans when yields rise. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America each fell 1.3%.

Big technology companies helped counter the dip from banks. Apple rose 1% and Microsoft rose 1.7%.

Homebuilders mostly fell after the National Association of Realtors said sales of previously occupied U.S. homes rose in June after a four-month pullback. The June data also showed the median U.S. home price hit a record high last month, reflecting an increase in sales of higher-end homes, while sales of properties under $150,000 declined.

The sharp rise in home prices, even with mortgage rates near historic lows, has stoked worries that many would-be buyers may be priced out of the market. Homebuilder Beazer Homes USA fell 2.9% and D.R. Horton slid 2%.

Company earnings reports are continuing to roll out. Texas Instruments fell 5.3% for the biggest drop in the S&P 500 after its results disappointed investors. The chip maker also gave a weak outlook for the second half of the year.

Union Pacific rose 1.1% after the railroad said its profits jumped 59% from a year earlier, helped by a 22% increase in cargo carried compared with a year earlier. The results also beat analysts’ expectations. Domino’s Pizza jumped 14.6% for the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after its results also surpassed estimates.

Intel was down 2.6% in after-market trading following the release of its quarterly results. Twitter also reported its results after the market closed. The social media portal was up 3.7% in extended trading.