US stock indexes veer slightly higher in afternoon trading
The major U.S. stock indexes veered slightly higher in late-afternoon trading after spending much of the day wavering between small gains and losses. Energy stocks led the gainers as crude oil prices closed higher. Health care stocks were down the most after President-elect Donald Trump said the government needs to overhaul how it buys drugs from pharmaceutical companies.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was up 68 points, or 0.3 percent, to 19,923 as of 3:22 p.m. Eastern Time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 3 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,272. The Nasdaq composite index gained 5 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,557. The Nasdaq has closed at a record high the past four days in a row.
THE QUOTE: The stock indexes have been drifting between small gains and losses for much of the day, likely because investors are looking ahead to the next wave of corporate earnings reports, which kick off Friday, noted Tim Dreiling, regional investment director for U.S. Bank's Private Client Reserve.
"The heavy load comes in the coming weeks," Dreiling said. "There's a little bit of a wait-and-see on what those earnings numbers look like."
TRUMP FACTOR: During a press conference Wednesday morning, Trump said the government has to create new bidding procedures for the pharmaceutical industry "because they're getting away with murder." The remarks sent health care stocks broadly lower. Several pharmaceutical companies slumped, with Endo International falling 7.6 percent, the biggest decliner in the S&P 500. The stock slid $1.16 to $14.15. Perrigo lost $6.33, or 7.6 percent, to $77.33. Mallinckrodt tumbled $3.24, or 6 percent, to $50.51.
UNAPPETIZING RESULTS: SuperValu slid 7.1 percent after the grocery store operator announced a weak third-quarter profit, partly because of falling food prices. The stock shed 34 cents to $4.45.
SALES SLUMP: Signet Jewelers fell 3.5 percent after the company cut its profit forecast for the fourth quarter and current fiscal year. Signet said its total sales fell 5 percent over the holidays, citing technical problems at its e-commerce business. The stock fell $3.09 to $84.37.
DISAPPOINTING FORECAST: Auto parts supplier BorgWarner was down 1.7 percent after it issued a profit and sales forecast that fell short of what Wall Street was anticipating. The stock shed 69 cents to $40.08.
FASTER IS BETTER: Drugmaker Merck rose 2.3 percent on news that the Food and Drug Administration will do a quick review of one of the company's drugs for its potential to treat a type of lung cancer. The stock added $1.41 at $61.33.
HEALTHY OUTLOOK: Intuitive Surgical gained 2.4 percent after the robotic surgical systems maker delivered a strong fourth-quarter sales forecast. The stock rose $15.86 to $678.06.
EARNINGS SEASON: Big U.S. companies start reporting fourth-quarter earnings this week. On Friday JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America release their results. Still, investors had their eye on a few companies that released quarterly results Wednesday.
MARKETS OVERSEAS: Germany's DAX rose 0.5 percent, while France's CAC 40 was essentially flat. Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.2 percent. In Asia, a strong earnings forecast from Samsung Electronics helped drive gains on the South Korean stock market, where the Kospi added 1.5 percent and hit its highest close in over a year. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.3 percent. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.8 percent.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.43, or 2.8 percent, to close at $52.25 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price oil sold internationally, gained $1.46, or 2.7 percent, at $55.10 a barrel in London. In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline added 5 cents to $1.59 a gallon and heating oil rose 4 cents to $1.65 a gallon. Natural gas futures slipped 5 cents to $3.22 per 1,000 cubic feet.
BONDS: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.37 percent from 2.38 percent late Tuesday.
CURRENCIES: The pound continued to weaken amid concern that Britain might break off completely from the European Union's single market. The currency was trading at $1.2201, up from $1.2163 the day before. The dollar fell to 115.49 yen from 115.73 yen late Tuesday. The euro rose to $1.0575 from $1.0560.
METALS: The price of gold rose $11.10 to $1,196.60 an ounce. Silver slipped 2 cents to $16.83 an ounce. Copper was little changed at $2.61 a pound.