Dow zooms to
23,000 for first time

By Matthew Rocco | Fox Business | October 17, 2017

The Dow hit an all-time high of 23,000.
The Dow hit an all-time high of 23,000.

The Dow soared past 23,000 on Tuesday, hitting its fourth milestone of the year amid higher economic optimism and strong corporate earnings.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded to a new intraday high of 23,002 during the session. The blue-chip index closed with a gain of 40.5 points, or 0.18%, at 22,997.44. The S&P 500 fell 1.7 points, or 0.07%, to 2,559.36. The Nasdaq Composite edged 0.4 points lower, or 0.01%, to 6,623.66.

Stocks have been on a tear in 2017. Blue-chip companies such as Apple (AAPL), Boeing (BA) and Caterpillar (CAT), three of the Dow's 30 members, have posted substantial gains that reflect robust financial results. Expectations for a cut to individual and business taxes have driven stocks further. Investors have also taken the Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes, as well as a plan to shrink its $4.5 trillion balance sheet in stride—a departure from the "good news is bad news" sentiment of recent years.

With equities stretching to new heights, investors are bracing for the bull market to take a breather—particularly given October's reputation as a volatile month. It took just 76 days for the Dow to travel from 22,000 to 23,000, and the milestone will encourage some investors to jump into the market. But crossing 23,000 is mainly symbolic, according to Sameer Samana, global quantitative and technical strategist for Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

"We've come a long way from the crisis lows, and investors should make sure their allocations are not being driven by backward-looking performance and psychological milestones such as this," Samana said.

Stocks may have more room to run, though. Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist at Wells Fargo, suggested that a slight pullback will offer investors another buying opportunity.

"The equity market continues to grind higher even though we see numerous headwinds and uncertainties, which might not be resolved for at least a few months—and possibly much longer," he wrote in a recent note to clients.

Stocks look poised to move north with third-quarter earnings beginning to arrive. J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) and Bank of America (BAC) said their quarterly profits rose, reflecting higher interest rates that boosted their lending businesses.

"Increasing earnings, restrained inflation, an accommodative Federal Reserve (Fed), and constructive technical trendlines provide valuation support and the basis for stocks to trend higher," according to a research note from U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

The Fed has set the stage for one more increase to the federal funds rate in December. But the markets appear more concerned with inflation and how it may influence the Fed's timeline for future rate changes. In minutes from their September meeting, Fed policymakers raised the possibility that persistently low inflation could convince the central bank to keep rates lower for longer. Inflation has fallen short of the Fed's 2% target.

Traders are also parsing data to determine the economic impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The storms contributed to a disappointing reading on the labor market, as U.S. jobs declined 33,000 in September during the month. U.S. Bank said the report was likely a blip on the radar. Labor force participation improved last month, and Harvey and Irma are expected to boost payrolls in the coming months.

The Dow on Thursday got a boost from UnitedHealth (UNH), which rallied 5.6% after beating Wall Street's estimates for third-quarter earnings. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) also beat earnings estimates and jumped 3.5%.

Elsewhere, Harley-Davidson (HOG) was up 2% despite reporting lower retail sales than expected. Goldman Sachs (GS) fell 2.5% on disappointing quarterly results.

U.S. oil futures rose a penny to $51.88 per barrel. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was trading 36 cents higher at $58.18 per barrel.