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VOL. 41 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 22, 2017

Energy leads US stocks indexes to a mostly higher finish

The Associated Press

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A listless day on Wall Street finished with U.S. stocks eking out small gains Friday, as strength in energy, phone and industrial companies offset losses elsewhere.

Some health insurers bounced back as support dwindled for the Senate Republicans' latest effort to roll back the Affordable Care Act.

Real estate and utilities companies were among the biggest decliners. A new round of tensions between the U.S. and North Korea helped send bond yields lower, which weighed on banks and other financial stocks. The sector notched daily gains earlier in the week.

"Geopolitical tensions coming out of North Korea caused a flight to quality, which kind of put the brakes on the momentum in financials," said David Schiegoleit, managing director of investments at U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management. "Today equity markets are simply moving sideways and probably digesting that."

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.62 points, or 0.06 percent, to 2,502.22. The Dow Jones industrial average shed 9.64 points, or 0.04 percent, to 22,349.59. The average was held back by a loss in Apple, which slid $1.50, or 1 percent, to $151.89.

The Nasdaq composite added 4.23 points, or 0.07 percent, to 6,426.92.

Small-company stocks did better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 gained 6.60 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,450.78, a fraction of a point above its previous record high.

The Russell 2000 also notched the biggest weekly gain, 1.3 percent. The S&P 500 and Dow posted small gains, while the Nasdaq closed out the week with a modest loss.

The stock indexes spent much of the day drifting between small gains and losses as investors weighed the latest developments in the political brinkmanship between the U.S. and North Korea.

Tensions between the two nations ratcheted up after President Donald Trump authorized stiffer sanctions in response to North Korea's nuclear weapons advances, drawing a furious response from Pyongyang. Trump expanded the Treasury Department's ability to target anyone conducting significant trade in goods, services or technology with North Korea, and to ban them from interacting with the U.S. financial system. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un retaliated by calling Trump "deranged" and saying he'll "pay dearly" for his threats.

The heightened tensions drove up bond prices, which sent yields lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 2.25 percent from 2.28 percent late Thursday.

That weighed on bank shares, including Fifth Third Bancorp, which declined 23 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $27.31. Lower bond yields mean banks have to charge lower interest rates on long-term loans like mortgages.

Several health care companies recovered some of the ground they lost earlier after Sen. John McCain said he won't vote for the latest Republican bill to repeal the ACA. His statement likely deals a fatal blow to the last-gasp GOP measure in a Senate showdown expected next week.

Centene, which administers Medicaid programs and sells health plans to ACA exchanges, rose $1.48, or 1.6 percent, to $92.22. Molina Healthcare gained $2.81, or 4.5 percent, to $65.32.

Energy stocks rose as crude oil prices finished higher. Hess added 87 cents, or 2 percent, to $44.50.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 11 cents, or 0.2 percent, to settle at $50.66 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 43 cents, or 0.8 percent, to close at $56.86 a barrel in London.

Real estate investment trusts and utilities were among the biggest decliners. Ventas fell $1.48, or 2.2 percent, to $66.04. Duke Energy slid 91 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $84.25.

Industrial stocks, including several airlines, were among the gainers. Alaska Air Group added $1.84, or 2.5 percent, to $74.75. American Airlines Group gained 77 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $47.06.

Traders welcomed news of a possible combination between two major wireless carriers.

Sprint climbed 6.1 percent after Reuters reported the company is close to signing a deal with rival T-Mobile. Shares in Sprint added 49 cents to $8.52. T-Mobile gained 67 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $64.06. Verizon also got a boost, rising 96 cents, or 2 percent, to $49.90.

Among the big movers Friday was Compass Minerals, which slumped 13.5 percent after the mining company cut its annual profit forecast after a partial ceiling cave-in at a rock salt mine in Ontario that will slow operations for six weeks. The stock lost $9.40 to $60.10.

CarMax jumped 7.8 percent after the used car retailer's latest quarterly results beat analysts' forecasts. The stock gained $5.35 to $74.19.

In other energy futures trading, heating oil was little changed at $1.82 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline gained 3 cents to $1.67 a gallon. Natural gas rose 1 cent to $2.96 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $2.70 to $1,297.50 an ounce. Silver lost 3 cents to $16.98 an ounce. Copper added 1 cent to $2.95 a pound.

The dollar weakened to 112.05 yen from 112.38 yen on Thursday. The euro climbed to $1.1941 from $1.1885.

Markets overseas were mixed Friday.

Germany's DAX fell 0.1 percent, while France's CAC 40 gained 0.3 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.6 percent. In Asia, markets finished unevenly after S&P downgraded the credit rating for China and Hong Kong. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.3 percent, while South Korea's Kospi lost 0.7 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.8 percent.

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