Wednesday, March 12, 2014 2:34 pm
US stocks finish mostly higher after a weak start
The push was enough to nudge the Standard & Poor's 500 index into the green by half a point Wednesday, as investors bought up oil refiners, mining companies and technology stocks. Refiners such as Tesoro Corp. led the gains.
Stocks were down for most of the day, but began to crawl back in the afternoon. The S&P 500 index added 0.57 points, or 0.03 percent, to close at 1,868.20. The Nasdaq composite also rebounded. It gained 16.14 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,323.33. Only the Dow Jones industrial average ended lower. It fell 11.17 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,340.08.
The three major U.S. stock indexes are still down for the week. Investors have been worried about a sharp drop in China's exports reported over the weekend, which raised concerns that the world's second-largest economy is slowing. Since China is a big consumer of raw materials and energy, commodities such as copper and iron ore have dropped sharply. The S&P 500 index ended lower Monday and Tuesday.
Some strategist say investors are pausing after the market hit three record highs last week.
"When markets reach these kind of new highs very often they have to digest those gains, which is what they're doing," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist with Prudential Financial. "They need to adjust the gains and then wait for the next catalyst to move higher."
That could come Thursday, when new data on retail sales and weekly unemployment benefit applications are released. On Friday, a survey of consumer confidence should give traders a better sense of how Americans feel about the economy.
Among the big winners Wednesday was Tesoro. It rose the most of any stock in the S&P 500 index, climbing $2.13, or 4.1 percent, to $54.50. Marathon Petroleum Corp., added $3.21, or 3.5 percent, to $94.50, while Valero Energy Corp., gained $1.62, or 3 percent, to $55.29.
Investors also took a shine to mining companies as metals prices increased. Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. rose 43 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $18.41 and Newmont Mining Corp. rose 66 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $25.01.
Tech giants Google, Microsoft and Facebook also contributed to the day's gains. Together they make up about 12 percent of the Nasdaq composite. Google rose $7.31, or 0.6 percent, to $1,207.30; Microsoft added 25 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $38.27 and Facebook climbed 78 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $70.88.
Six of the 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500 index notched small declines, with industrials posting the biggest drop. Utilities rose the most as investors moved money into the relatively low-risk sector.
Among the index's big decliners were insurer Progressive, which shed 94 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $23.58.
Most of the publicly traded homebuilding companies were trading lower after Credit Suisse issued a broad downgrade on the sector. In addition, new data from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed home loan applications fell 2.1 percent from a week earlier. Meritage Homes posted the biggest drop among the decliners, shedding 85 cents, or 2 percent, to $44.21.
Herbalife fell $4.82, or 7.4 percent, to $60.57 after the nutrition and supplement maker disclosed that it is facing an inquiry from the Federal Trade Commission. The company made the announcement a day after hedge fund manager William Ackman renewed his attacks on the company. Ackman repeatedly has bet against the company and says he believes it operates as a pyramid scheme.
The state of China's economy will continue to be a focus.
"We've been seeing these periodic, occasional weak data points come out of China," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "And each time that happens when our markets are at ... record highs, they're going to be very sensitive to any sort of negative news and there'll be days of profit-taking."