U.S. markets closed a tad higher Wednesday as utilities surged

The floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

U.S. stocks closed barely higher Wednesday as big gains for utilities balanced out losses for retailers like Lowe’s, Target and Staples.

Stocks fell in morning trading as a recent slump in phone company and utility stocks continued. But the indexes reversed directions after noon as those stocks turned higher, as did those of banks and household goods makers. Investors scrutinized the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s late July meeting and found no suggestion the central bank was in any hurry to raise interest rates.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 21.92 points, or 0.1%, to 18,573.94. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 4.07 points, or 0.2%, to 2,182.22 after falling as much as 10 points early on. The Nasdaq composite inched up 1.55 points to 5,228.66. That left the market little changed from Tuesday and continued a persistent pattern of small moves for U.S. stocks.


Utility companies made the biggest gains as low interest rates and bond yields make their big dividend payments more appealing. Dominion Resources jumped $1.97, or 2.6%, to $76.65 and Xcel Energy added 69 cents, or 1.7%, to $42.33.

Bond prices turned higher and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.55% from 1.58%. The dollar weakened, falling to 100.19 yen from 100.25 yen. The euro rose to $1.1290 from $1.1277. In recent days the Fed’s decision to leave rates unchanged has weakened the dollar, helping exporters.

Consumer companies slumped after weak results and forecasts for some major retailers. Home improvement retailer Lowe’s cut its annual profit forecast after it reported a profit that was smaller than analysts expected, and sales at older stores were weak. Those sales are considered an important measurement of retailer performance. Lowe’s stock fell $4.60, or 5.6%, to $76.88. Target also lowered its profit projections as it deals with stiff competition. Its stock lost $4.85, or 6.4%, to $70.63.

Office supply retailer Staples fell after disappointing analysts with its forecasts, which included further sales declines. Its stock fell 66 cents, or 7.1%, to $8.67. Rival Office Depot lost 26 cents, or 6.9%, to $3.52.

Barnes & Noble tumbled after the book seller said CEO Ronald Boire is leaving after less than a year in the job. The company said its board determined that Boire was not a good fit. Chairman and former CEO Leonard Riggio, who was scheduled to retire next month, will stay with the company as it seeks a new CEO.

Barnes & Noble has been cutting costs and closing stores as it copes with people doing more of their shopping online and at discount stores. Its stock sank $1.47, or 11 percent, to $11.91.

Oil prices climbed after the Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude oil inventories shrank by 2.5 million barrels last week and gas stockpiles decreased by 2.7 million barrels. The declines were larger than expected, which is generally good for oil prices. Benchmark U.S. crude added 21 cents to $46.79 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, inched up 62 cents, or 1.3%, to $49.85 a barrel in London.


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2:22 p.m.: This article was updated after the markets closed.

7:55 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

This article was originally published at 7:30 a.m.