U.S. stocks are drifting Tuesday amid a vacuum of market-moving data, while U.S. regulators shook the cryptocurrency world again by filing charges against another mega player in the industry.
The S&P 500 was mostly unchanged in afternoon trading, and it’s near the edge of what traders call a bull market. It’s almost 20% above where it was in mid-October, as a long-predicted recession has yet to hit and excitement around artificial intelligence has helped a select group of stocks to soar.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 86 points, or 0.3%, at 33,478, as of 2:24 p.m. Eastern time, while the Nasdaq composite was 0.2% higher.
This upcoming week has few top-tier economic reports and corporate earnings updates to help Wall Street answer its main question. It wants to know which will happen first: a recession or inflation falling enough to get the Federal Reserve to start cutting interest rates, which have climbed so high they’ve hurt various parts of the economy.
That’s why next week looms large. The U.S. government will publish its latest monthly updates on inflation, and the Federal Reserve will meet on interest-rate policy. The bet on Wall Street is that the Fed may hold off on hiking rates, which would be the first time that’s happened in more than a year, but could resume raising rates in July.
Some of the strongest action was in the cryptocurrency world after the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Coinbase with operating its trading platform as an unregistered national securities exchange, broker and clearing agency.
Shares of its parent, Coinbase Global, tumbled 13.3% after the SEC also accused it of being liable for some of Coinbase’s violations. Other charges focused on Coinbase’s staking-as-a-service program, where users get payments for their crypto almost like earning interest from a traditional bank savings account.
Coinbase criticized the SEC’s approach to crypto, saying “the solution is legislation that allows fair rules for the road to be developed transparently and applied equally, not litigation.”
A day earlier, the SEC filed 13 charges against another huge crypto trading platform, Binance, and its founder. Bitcoin was at $26,734 Tuesday, down from $27,000 on Sunday, according to CoinDesk.
Elsewhere in markets, oil prices were lower following gains driven earlier in the week by Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would cut production to boost crude’s price. A barrel of U.S. crude was 0.4% lower at $71.86. A barrel of Brent crude, the international standard, sank 0.4% to $76.39.
Both were close to $120 a year ago but have fallen amid worries about a strapped global economy’s need for fuel.
On the winning side of Wall Street was Gitlab, which soared 32.4% after the software development platform gave a revenue forecast for the fiscal year that topped analysts’ expectations. It also said it expects to turn in a milder loss than Wall Street had forecast, as it benefits from a rush into artificial intelligence.
A frenzy around AI has helped a handful of stocks soar to immense gains this year, including Nvidia’s 97% surge. That’s helped drive much of the S&P 500’s gains in 2023, but it’s also caused critics to question whether a bubble is forming. They also say the furor around AI may be masking weakness underneath the S&P 500’s surface.
Even though the S&P 500 is nearing a bull market, almost as many stocks within it are down this year as up as worries remain about falling corporate profits, still-high inflation and much higher interest rates than a year ago.
Blunting some of that criticism, many banks were rising Tuesday.
They’ve been under pressure because the Fed’s fastest flurry of rate hikes in decades has pushed some bank customers to pull their deposits and put them into money-market funds paying more in interest. At the same time, rate hikes have knocked down values of bonds and other investments banks made when rates were low.
The pressure has caused several high-profile bank failures and pushed Wall Street to punish stocks of other banks as it hunts for possible victims. But Zions Bancorp rose 4.8% for the largest gain in the S&P 500. Comerica was close behind with a 5.4% rise.
Some of the banks under the harshest scrutiny also climbed, including a 6.7% jump for PacWest Bancorp.
In the bond market, the yield on the 10-year Treasury remained at 3.69% from late Monday. It helps set rates for mortgages and other important loans.
In stock markets abroad, indexes were moving modestly higher across much of Europe.
In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 gained 0.9% after government data showed Japanese wages rose 1% over a year earlier in April but growth slowed from the previous month’s 1.3%.
Australia’s S&P ASX 200 fell 1.2% to 7,129.60 Australia’s central bank lifted its benchmark interest rate by 0.25 percentage points to 4.1% and warned further rises could follow. That came after inflation was stronger than expected at 6.8% in the January-March quarter.
AP Business Writers Matt Ott and Joe McDonald contributed.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.