Stock Market Today: Dow Nicks New High in 2020's Penultimate Session

A Wednesday session light on trading volume and news alike ended in slight gains, with the Dow setting another fresh closing high.

Concept art of stock tickers
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Stocks quietly crept higher Wednesday as low volume on Wall Street accompanied heavy gridlock in Washington.

The Senate adjourned late Tuesday without taking action on the House's recently passed bill to hike stimulus payments to $2,000 (opens in new tab). For now, $600 payments are already starting to hit Americans' bank accounts (opens in new tab).

On Wednesday, the U.K. became the first country to approve a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca (AZN (opens in new tab), +0.6%) and Oxford University, but that good news was blunted by yesterday's reported 3,725 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. – a new daily high.

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One market firework of note today: New S&P 500 component Tesla (TSLA (opens in new tab), +4.3%) jumped to within just a few dollars of its previous all-time high after Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said the electric vehicle stock's (opens in new tab) goal for 500,000 deliveries in 2020, while "not even on the map … going back to the late spring/early summer timeframe," is now within reach thanks to strength in China and Europe.

The major indices all finished a little higher, including the Dow Jones Industrial Average, whose 0.2% gain to 30,409 was just enough for yet another record close.

Other action in the stock market today:

  • The S&P 500 edged 0.1% higher to 3,732.
  • The Nasdaq closed with a 0.2% gain to 12,870.
  • The Russell 2000 rebounded strongly, up 1.1% to 1,979.
  • U.S. crude oil futures improved by 0.8% to $48.40 per barrel.
  • Gold futures climbed 0.6% to settle at $1,893.40 per ounce.

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More Forecasts for a Bumpy 2021 Start

A fruitful year with a turbulent start. Why yes, we could be describing the stock market in 2020 – the S&P 500, with just one more trading day to go, is on pace to finish with a 17%-18% total return (price plus dividends) despite COVID dragging the economy into recession.

But no, we're talking about how an increasing number of analysts are describing their outlooks for 2021.

For 2021, CFRA chief investment strategist Sam Stovall says his firm is targeting S&P 4,080, or a 9.5% return, in 2021, but "domestic equity markets appear to us to have over-discounted a second-half 2021 economic and EPS recovery, however, and as a result may be vulnerable to a Q1 pullback."

"The Russell 2000 is currently more than 30% above its 200-day moving average, the S&P 500’s next-12-month (NTM) P/E ratio trades at a 42% premium to its 20-year average, and the 12-month return differential for S&P 500 growth-value indices remains at a level last seen in December 1999," he says.

Practically speaking, that means a few things for investors. For one, you still have a little time to exit stocks that are facing more headwinds in 2021 than most (opens in new tab). And if you're looking to put money to work, you have two choices: 1) Buy at the start of the year, and steel yourself for a potentially choppy first few months, or 2) Wait for a dip to buy into 2021's best stocks and funds (opens in new tab).

However you decide to proceed, start your wish list with these 21 best stocks for 2021 – a group of picks that are either expected to benefit from a 2021 "return to normalcy" or ride emerging trends to red-hot returns in the year to come.

Kyle Woodley
Senior Investing Editor, Kiplinger.com

Kyle is senior investing editor for Kiplinger.com. As a writer and columnist, he also specializes in exchange-traded funds. He joined Kiplinger in September 2017 after spending six years at InvestorPlace.com, where he managed the editorial staff. His work has appeared in several outlets, including U.S. News & World Report and MSN Money, he has appeared as a guest on Fox Business Network and Money Radio, and he has been quoted in MarketWatch, Vice and Univision, among other outlets. He is a proud graduate of The Ohio State University, where he earned a BA in journalism.