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Stocks close higher amid presidential election in France

CNBC logo CNBC 2/17/2017 Fred Imbert

Stocks closed slightly higher Friday as a record-setting rally slowed down while investors kept an eye on France's presidential election.

The Dow gained 4 points, with UnitedHealth contributing the most losses. 

The S&P 500 added 0.17 percent. The telecommunications sector, which had been one of the worst performers for most of Friday's session, erased losses. Reuters reported that Japan's SoftBank Group is prepared to give up control of Sprint to T-Mobile to clinch a merger of the two U.S. wireless carriers.

The Nasdaq outperformed, rising 0.41 percent. 

The three major indexes had posted record closing highs five straight sessions before closing mixed Thursday. Lifting stocks were the prospects of President Donald Trump's presenting a "phenomenal" tax plan soon, as well as solid economic data. 

Trump held his first solo news conference Thursday, in which he berated the media and boasted about his accomplishments.

"If he doesn't straighten it out in the next, I would say, 30 days, people will just stop listening to him," said Maris Ogg, president at Tower Bridge Advisors.

Data released Thursday pointed to improving economic conditions in the U.S., with the Philadelphia Federal Reserve manufacturing index hitting its highest level since 1984, while weekly jobless claims remained around their lowest levels in decades.

The only major economic data released Friday are leading indicators, which rose 0.6 percent in January.

"When you look at the underlying fundamentals, they're quite good. The big question on the horizon is Marine Le Pen," said Tower Bridge's Ogg. "If she wins, we're going to have a recession."

According to recent polls, Le Pen — France's far-right, anti-European Union candidate — is the favorite to win the first round of voting, scheduled for April. However, it is not clear whether she will win the run-off vote in May.

Socialist Benoit Hamon and hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon held talks Friday about possibly joining forces to beat Le Pen. French bond yields ticked higher on the news, pushing the spread between 10-year French sovereigns and German bunds above 70 basis points.

However, "that simultaneously increases the chances for Le Pen to win because center-right voters might be more inclined to vote for her or not turn out," said Luke Bartholomew, investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index rose marginally on Friday, and posted weekly gains.

U.S. Treasurys rose, with the benchmark 10-year note yield falling to 2.42 percent and the short-term two-year note yield declining to 1.19 percent.

"With risk aversion rippling across the board amid the ongoing uncertainty, Wall Street may be vulnerable to further losses," said Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at FXTM.

"Although global stocks have repeatedly hit record highs from the 'Trump effect,' markets could find themselves under renewed selling pressure if the proposed fiscal stimulus and tax cuts fall below market expectations," he said.


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