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US stock indexes edge up as oil gives up half of its spurt

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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NEW YORK, USA (AP) — US stock indexes ticked closer to record heights yesterday, but the modest moves belied plenty of churning underneath. Oil prices and energy stocks slumped to give back nearly half of their huge gains from a day earlier.

Rising prices for technology stocks and companies that sell to consumers, though, more than made up for those losses. Treasury yields fell a second-straight day, as the Federal Reserve opened a two-day meeting on interest rates, where investors expect it to announce a cut for the second time in as many months.

The S&P 500 rose 7.74 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 3,005.70. It's back to within 0.7 per cent of its record set in late July. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 33.98, or 0.1 per cent, to 27,110.80, and the Nasdaq composite gained 32.47, or 0.4per cent, to 8,186.02.

“We're drifting here a little bit,” said David Joy, chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial. “It's interesting to me, and somewhat encouraging, that the market has held up near its all-time highs despite all these concerns.”

The newest of those concerns arrived this past weekend, when an attack on a Saudi Arabian oil facility raised the risk of major disruptions to the world's oil supply.

Crude surged more than 14 per cent on Monday, about as much as it did when Iraq invaded Kuwait before the 1991 Gulf War, and concern rose that spiralling oil prices would act as a huge, de facto tax imposed around the world.

But benchmark US crude slumped US$3.56 to US$59.34 per barrel yesterday, giving up close to half of its surge from a day earlier. Saudi Arabia's energy minister said that half of the production cut by the attack has already been restored.

Brent crude, the international standard, fell US$4.47 to US$64.55. That led to a 1.5 per cent loss for energy stocks in the S&P 500, the sharpest among the 11 sectors that make up the index. Marathon Oil dropped 7.8 per cent, and oilfield services provider Halliburton gave up 6.5 per cent.

The drop in oil, though, helped companies carrying big fuel bills recoup some of their sharp losses from the day before. American Airlines Group rose 3.1%, for example, and clawed back about 40% of its loss from Monday.

Technology stocks also made modest gains, including Microsoft's 0.8% rise and Micron Technology's 1.4p per cent climb. Stocks that pay big dividends, including utilities and real estate investment trusts, were among the market's leaders, as a drop in interest rates made their pay-outs more attractive.

Investors still largely expect the Fed to cut short-term interest rates by another quarter of a percentage point Wednesday. The central bank cut rates in late July for the first time in more than a decade as it tries to shield the United States from the pain of a slowing global economy and the effects of the trade war with China.

Several economic reports have come in recently that are “good enough” to mean it's no longer a slam dunk that the Fed will cut rates today, Ameriprise's Joy said. Tensions in the trade war between the world's two largest economies, which has been the number one concern for investors around the world, have seemed to diminish a bit recently, and representatives from Washington and Beijing are scheduled to talk next month.

But Joy and many others still expect the Fed to cut today and perhaps again later this year, similar to the trio of cuts it implemented in 1995-1996 and again in 1998 as part of a “mid-cycle adjustment” in the 1991-2001 economic expansion.

The yield on the 10-year treasury fell to 1.80 per cent from 1.84 per cent late Monday. The two-year yield, which is more heavily influenced by changes in Fed policy, fell to 1.72 per cent from 1.75 per cent


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