Retailers and energy firms nudge stocks further into record territory

U.S. stock indexes finished with tiny gains Wednesday as retailers jumped after a strong hiring forecast from Target and energy companies rose along with oil prices.

Companies that sell everything from clothing to electronics rose after Target said it will hire 100,000 workers for the holiday season, about 30,000 more than it did last year. Energy companies rose after the U.S. government said oil and gasoline stockpiles shrank last week. Those gains were almost canceled out as technology and healthcare companies, which have led the market higher this year, slipped.

With stocks at record highs, investors hunted for bargains. Retailers and energy and telecommunications companies have all struggled this year, and they rose Wednesday.

One reason stocks may have held steady: The Federal Reserve will meet next week, and along with the usual questions about interest rates and the Fed's balance sheet, investors are wondering about the central bank's leadership. Janet L. Yellen's four-year term as Fed chairwoman will end in February, and it's not clear if President Trump will re-appoint her or replace her.

“There are factions of the Fed, as well as potential Fed chair candidates, that are less focused on market reactions and will be more focused on the need to raise rates from their current levels to offset a future recession,” said Eric Freedman, chief investment officer for U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

Freedman said Yellen has made a priority of informing Wall Street about the Fed's plans and taking investor reactions into account. A different Fed chair might not do that, which could lead to a bumpier ride for stocks.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up 1.89 points, or 0.1%, to 2,498.37 on Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 39.32 points, or 0.2%, to 22,158.18. The Nasdaq composite rose 5.91 points, or 0.1%, to 6,460.19. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 3.43 points, or 0.2%, to 1,426.89.

Target climbed 2.8% to $59.51 after it said it plans to hire more workers for the holidays than a year earlier. Best Buy rose 3.2% to $58.60. Gap advanced 2.2% to $28.22. Video game seller GameStop went up 2.5% to $20.02, and Amazon.com rose 1.7% to $999.60.

Department store chain Nordstrom climbed 6% to $47.74 after CNBC reported that the Nordstrom family is close to a deal to take the company private. The stock has risen over the last three months following talk that company executives and other descendants of co-founder John Nordstrom might buy the 70% of the company they don't already own.

Hard drive maker Western Digital slumped 3.4% to $85.74 after its partner Toshiba said it will sell its computer memory business to a consortium led by Bain Capital Private Equity. Western Digital wants to buy that business and has filed a lawsuit to stop Toshiba from selling it to anyone else. Toshiba is trying to offset losses by its Westinghouse Electric nuclear business, which filed for bankruptcy protection in March.

Credit ratings firm Equifax slid 14.6% to $98.99, an 18-month low, in heavy trading. The company disclosed last week that personal data of about 143 million Americans was compromised in a cyberattack. Equifax has been sharply criticized by Congress, state governments and consumers. It traded above $142 last week before news of the attack broke.

Medicaid program administrator Centene jumped 8% to $98.16 after it said it will expand into New York through a $3.75-billion acquisition of Fidelis Care. Centene has expanded into several states in the past year through the Affordable Care Act's exchanges.

Apple slipped again, falling 0.8% to $159.65. Investors appeared worried about the $999 price tag of the 10th-anniversary iPhone X as well as the phone’s November launch date, which could affect Apple's revenue in the next few quarters. Investors seemed to like some of the plans Apple laid out Tuesday, including new features that are being added to the Apple Watch.

Energy companies rose as benchmark U.S. crude climbed $1.07, or 2.2%, to $49.30 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 89 cents, or 1.6%, to $55.16 a barrel. Heating oil rose 3 cents to $1.77 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline fell 1 cent to $1.65 a gallon. Natural gas rose 6 cents to $3.06 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Bond prices edged up. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.19% from 2.17%.

Gold fell $4.70 to $1,328 an ounce. Silver fell 2 cents to $17.87 an ounce. Copper fell 6 cents to $2.98 a pound.

The dollar rose to 110.66 yen from 110.11 yen. The euro fell to $1.1873 from $1.1970.

The German DAX and CAC 40 in France both rose 0.2%. London's FTSE 100 index declined 0.1%. In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 rose 0.4%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.3%, and the Kospi in South Korea shed 0.2%.


UPDATES:

4 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.

7:55 a.m.: This article was updated with market prices and context.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.

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