US Markets

S&P 500 and Nasdaq close at record highs as tech sector shakes off new regulatory threat

Credit Suisse's Palfrey: Looking for confirmation of strength of US economy in corporate earnings
Credit Suisse's Palfrey: Looking for confirmation of strength of US economy in corporate earnings

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite reached all-time highs on Wednesday, propelled by a rally in chip stocks as investors shook off regulatory concerns facing Big Tech.

The broad index rose 0.5% to 3,019.56, a record. The tech-heavy Nasdaq jumped nearly 0.9% to end the day at 8,321.50. The VanEck Vectors Semiconductor ETF (SMH) gained 2.7% to hit a record, led by a 7.4% rally in Texas Instruments sparked by better-than-expected quarterly results.

Other companies such as UPS and AT&T also got a boost from strong results.

UPS jumped more than 8% after posting earnings and revenue that topped analyst expectations. The company said higher demand for its Next Day Air and Ground services drove its strong results.

AT&T, meanwhile, gained 3.6% after the company reported net phone subscriber growth that topped estimates. The telecom giant also raised its 2019 free cash flow guidance.

However, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 79.22 points lower at 27,269.97 as investors pored through disappointing earnings from Boeing and Caterpillar.

Boeing shares dropped 3.1% after the aerospace giant posted a massive loss for the previous quarter. The loss comes as costs pile up while its 737 Max jet remains grounded. The company also warned it could suspend production of its flagship jet if delays worsen.

Caterpillar shares slid 4.5% after the company reported weaker-than-expected earnings and revenue amid rising costs. The company has been under pressure as U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods remain in place while the two countries try to work out a trade deal.

"The mixed earnings picture and comments on the economy that we have heard from companies so far now coincides with a somewhat mixed technical backdrop for the market in the near-term," said Dan Russo, chief market strategist at Chaikin Analytics. While stocks "are trading near their recent all-time highs, under the surface there are signs that the bulls could take a breather."

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

But overall, the earnings season is off to a good start. About a quarter of S&P 500 companies had reported second-quarter earnings through Wednesday's open. Of those companies, 78% have posted a better-than-expected profit, according to FactSet data.

Wall Street also kept a close eye on big tech stocks like Facebook, Amazon and Alphabet as they faced mounting regulatory pressure. Facebook and Amazon initially dropped after the Justice Department announced a broad antitrust review of big tech companies. The two stocks recovered to trade slightly higher.

"We think that a broad movement to break up companies solely because they are large will fail without a change to existing antitrust laws," said Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, in a note. "We believe that Congress and the DOJ will investigate claims of anticompetitive behavior, but ultimately, we expect a 'no harm, no foul' outcome. We continue to be bullish on the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon and would be buyers of these names at current valuation."

Stocks closed higher in the previous session after CNBC reported American and Chinese negotiators will meet for face-to-face talks next week.

However, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that there are a lot of issues for the two countries to work out. "My expectation is this will be followed up with a meeting back in D.C. after this and hopefully we'll continue to progress."

—CNBC's Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.