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* China factory output, retail sales growth slow sharply
* Tesla slumps after U.S. opens probe into Autopilot (Updates with close of U.S. trading)
Aug 16 (Reuters) – The benchmark S&P 500 hit a record high on Monday as investors moved into defensive sectors and stocks recovered from losses earlier in the session, shaking off glum economic data out of China.
Economically sensitive groups such as energy, materials and financials were weaker after China’s factory output and retail sales growth slowed sharply and missed expectations in July, as new COVID-19 outbreaks and floods disrupted business operations.
But healthcare, utilities and consumer staples — generally regarded as defensive sectors — led the way and helped support the S&P 500.
“There is just huge amounts of liquidity, massive amounts of cash out there, both on corporate balance sheets and in private investors’ pockets, and because of that every tiny dip that there is, people look for bargains and they buy and they keep it buoyant,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.
Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 108.97 points, or 0.31%, to 35,624.35, the S&P 500 gained 11.66 points, or 0.26%, to 4,479.66 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 29.14 points, or 0.2%, to 14,793.76.
A rebound in the U.S economy including a stellar second-quarter corporate earnings season along with accommodative monetary policy has underpinned positive sentiment for equities.
“The overall environment remains supportive of risk assets, so there is a gravitational pull upward for stocks,” said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco.
Investors are looking for signs about when the Federal Reserve will rein in its easy money policies, with minutes from the central bank’s latest meeting due on Wednesday. A resurgence in COVID-19 cases and the impact on the economy are keeping markets on edge, with investors watching earnings reports from major retailers due later in the week.
Investors were also digesting news from Afghanistan, where thousands of civilians desperate to flee the country thronged Kabul airport after the Taliban seized the capital. In company news, Tesla shares fell after U.S. auto safety regulators said they had opened a formal safety probe into the company’s driver assistance system Autopilot after a series of crashes involving emergency vehicles. (Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf in New York and Devik Jain in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Maju Samuel and Cynthia Osterman)