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Wall Street ends mixed ahead of talks to avoid U.S. default

by The Associated Press | May 23, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks drifted to a mixed close as Wall Street waits to see whether a pivotal meeting later in the day will help the U.S. government avoid a potentially disastrous default on its debt. The S&P 500 closed little changed Monday. The Dow slipped 0.4 percent and the Nasdaq rose 0.5 percent. Big Tech was continuing its strong run for the year so far, including Meta Platforms. Even a record fine from the European Union couldn't slow it. Micron Technology was on the losing end after China accused its products of risking national security amid high tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The stock market is near its highest level since August, but it's been mostly drifting within a tight range for weeks as several big worries weigh. The biggest near-term risk is the possibility of a U.S. default, something that could occur as soon as June 1.

That's when Washington could run out of cash to pay its bills, unless Congress allows it to borrow more. Because Treasurys are seen as the safest investment on Earth, economists and investors say a default would likely trigger a recession for the economy and deep pain for financial markets.

Another worry that's hung over the market is the strength of the U.S. banking system, which has begun to crack under the weight of much higher interest rates. Three big U.S. failures have shaken confidence since March, and investors have been on the lookout for the next possible weak link.

Much scrutiny has been on PacWest Bancorp. Its stock rose 23 percent after it said it agreed to sell a portfolio of real-estate construction loans with about $2.6 billion in principal still outstanding to Kennedy Wilson.

PacWest is one of the smaller and mid-sized regional banks that Wall Street highlighted in its hunt for the next possible bank to suffer a drop in confidence. Other banks collapsed after depositors pulled their cash all at once to create debilitating runs. PacWest's stock is still down 69.3 percent for the year so far.

Elsewhere on Wall Street, Micron Technology dropped 2.7 percent as tensions over security worsen between China and the United States. China's government said on Sunday Micron's products have unspecified "serious network security risks" that could affect national security. It told users of sensitive computer equipment to stop buying Micron products.

Meta Platforms rose 1.6 percent after shaking off news that European regulators hit it with a record $1.3 billion privacy fine. Meta called the decision flawed and unjustified. It said it would appeal.

Meta has been on a tear this year, more than doubling so far in 2023 already. Other Big Tech companies have also had powerful leaps, much stronger than the rest of the market.

But that split in performance, which has kept the overall S&P 500 resilient when many stocks are weakening, is worrying some market watchers. It's left the index looking historically top heavy, meaning its performance is more dependent on a couple handfuls of stocks than it's been in decades.

Much of the excitement has been around artificial intelligence, but that hasn't been enough to turn around some of Wall Street's more pessimistic voices.

"While we believe AI is for real and will likely lead to some great efficiencies that help to fight inflation, it's unlikely to prevent the deep earnings recession we forecast for this year," Michael Wilson and other strategists at Morgan Stanley wrote in a report.

Profits for big U.S. companies have likely already fallen into a profit recession, with the S&P 500 in the midst of reporting a second straight quarter of profit drops from year-ago levels. The question is how much worse they will get because the economy is slowing under the weight of much higher interest rates meant to get inflation under control.

On the more optimistic side is Savita Subramanian, equity strategist at Bank of America. She raised her target for where the S&P 500 will end the year to 4,300 from 4,000. That's not far from its current level around 4,200, but she also said in a BofA Global Research report that stocks outside the behemoths at the top will likely be behind most of the gains.

Print Headline: Wall Street ends mixed ahead of talks to avoid U.S. default


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