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S&P 500 flirts with record high, ‘meme’ rally rolls on

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Wall Street indexes kept to tight ranges on Wednesday ahead of key inflation data this week, while small-time retail investors bought into several more stocks as a social media-fueled rally continued.

While the S&P 500 was trading just below record highs, a lack of new catalysts saw it struggling to break above its last high of 4,238.04 points.

A recent rally on Wall Street - driven by strong earnings in May and growing expectations of a 2021 economic recovery - appeared to have paused this week as investors awaited more cues on U.S. monetary policy.

"The market is trying to price in the quick recovery but there is still a lot the market doesn't know about how robust the recovery process is," said Arthur Weise, chief investment officer of Kingsland Growth Advisors.

Buying into so-called "meme stocks" by small-time retail investors continued, although they appeared to have pivoted to other stocks such as prison operator GEO Group(GEO.N), which surged 41.2%, and World Wrestling Entertainment(WWE.N), up 13.9%.

GameStop (GME.N) - the company most closely associated with the retail rally this year - rose 3.0% ahead of its quarterly results, due after the bell, while Clover Health (CLOV.O) reversed course to trade lower.

The so-called “meme” stocks have dominated trading volumes over the past few weeks, as retail traders take to hyping up stocks with the highest number of short positions.

"It is going to be consistent and the participation is good, but there remains a risk of high speculation and market manipulation within these meme stocks," said Rob Sechan, managing partner and co-founder of NewEdge Wealth.

At 11:55 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) was down 25.07 points, or 0.07%, at 34,574.75 and the S&P 500 (.SPX) was up 1.14 points, or 0.03%, at 4,228.40. The Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) was up 10.38 points, or 0.07%, at 13,935.29.

The S&P industrials sector (.SPLRCI) lagged its broader peers as talks over a new infrastructure bill appeared to have stalled in the Senate.

U.S.-listed Chinese stocks and chipmakers (.SOX) appeared to be unaffected by a sweeping package of legislation intended to bolster the United States’ capability to compete with Chinese technology, even as the move drew some criticism from Beijing.

But small gains in heavyweight technology stocks, particularly the FAANG group, gave the Nasdaq (.IXIC) a slight boost.

Major bank stocks including Goldman Sachs (GS.N) and Citigroup (C.N)fell between 0.2% and 0.8% as U.S. Treasury yields hit a more than one-month low.

Campbell Soup Co (CPB.N) fell 5.1% after it reported profit below expectations, and slashed its full-year earnings forecast due to higher costs.

Drugmaker Merck & Co(MRK.N) rose 2.2% after it said the U.S. government had agreed to buy about 1.7 million courses of the company’s experimental COVID-19 treatment, molnupiravir, for about $1.2 billion, if it is authorized in the country.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.23-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.09-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq. The S&P index recorded 32 new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 114 new highs and nine new lows.

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