US STOCKS-S&P 500, Dow pull back from record highs as shutdown worries loom

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(Reuters) – The S&P 500 and the Dow retreated from record closing highs on Tuesday as surging cases of COVID-19 and the growing threat of a fresh round of economic lockdowns and weak retail sales data dampened the euphoria caused by potential vaccine breakthroughs.

FILE PHOTO: The New York Stock Exchange is pictured in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The broad sell-off was a reversal of Monday’s rally, in which the blue-chip Dow reached its first record closing high since before the pandemic.

The Nasdaq was essentially flat, its losses capped by surging Tesla Inc TSLA.O shares.

“We’re seeing profit taking after some substantial gains, and we had mixed macro news,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York. “The market is pulling back, but we’re off the lows of the day.”

“There’s nothing to suggest we’ve hit a peak of this ‘vaccine rally.’”

Monday’s rally was prompted by Moderna Inc’s MRNA.O announcement that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate appears to be 94.5% effective in preventing infection.

But a recent surge in new coronavirus cases across the United States have led several governors to enact new restrictions to prevent the disease from spiraling out of control.

The retail sales report released by the Commerce Department showed spending decelerating as the holiday shopping season approaches amid a lack of forthcoming fiscal relief from Washington.

“The retail sales data was disappointing and that’s an alarming sign, in that we’re not very far away from the holiday spending season,” Cardillo added. “The pandemic is keeping people from opening up their wallets in a big way.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 171.75 points, or 0.57%, to 29,778.69, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 12.45 points, or 0.34%, to 3,614.46 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 0.67 points, or 0.01%, to 11,923.46.

Among 11 major sectors of the S&P 500, utilities .SPLRCU and healthcare stocks .SPXHC were faring the worst.

Third-quarter earnings season is in its final stretch, with 465 of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported. Of those, 84.5% have beaten consensus estimates, according to Refinitiv data.

This week brings quarterly results from series of high-profile retailers.

Walmart Inc WMT.N beat profit expectations and posted a bigger-than-expected 6.4% annual growth in same-store sales.

Home improvement retailer Home Depot Inc HD.N also beat quarterly profit and sales estimates as consumers used stay-at-home restrictions to focus on DIY home projects.

Still, Walmart’s and Home Depot’s stocks were down 0.6% and 3.1%, respectively.

But Kohl’s Corp KSS.N jumped 8.9% after the department store chain posted a surprise quarterly profit and forecast strong margins for the upcoming holiday season.

Target Corp TGT.N and Lowe’s Companies Inc LOW.N results are expected before the bell on Wednesday.

Shares of Tesla jumped 9.0% after S&P Dow Jones Indices announced it would add the electric automaker to the S&P 500 on Dec. 21.

Amazon.com Inc AMZN.O rose 0.7% after it launched an online pharmacy in the United States. Shares of rival drug retailers such as Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc WBA.O CVS Health Corp CVS.N were both down nearly 9%, on the news.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.18-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.02-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 21 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 96 new highs and eight new lows.

Reporting by Shivani Kumaresan, Medha Singh, Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru and by Stephen Culp in New York; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Tom Brown