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Bank earnings lift stock indexes to small gains for day

John Panin
Trader John Panin works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Banks surged Wednesday following strong results from a slew of financial companies, and U.S. stock indexes finished broadly higher. Concerns about trade tensions between the U.S. and China derailed a bigger gain.

Financial and investment companies surged as fourth-quarter reports from Wall Street continued to roll in. Goldman Sachs’ stock had its best day in 10 years, and Bank of America its best in seven. Banks were some of the chief beneficiaries of the corporate tax cut that took effect at the end of 2017, which fattened their balance sheets, but their stocks endured a rough year in 2018.

Willie Delwiche, an investment strategist at Baird, said it will be a good sign for the stock market and the economy if banks continue to report strong results and their stocks keep rallying.

“That to me is a signal that the economy is maybe on firmer footing,” he said. “The important takeaway from earnings season will not be what companies had to say about the fourth quarter as much as it will be the commentary, not just for the current quarter but for 2019 overall.”

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U.S. indexes were on track for larger gains before the Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors could bring criminal charges against Chinese tech company Huawei related to alleged theft of trade secrets from U.S. companies. Huawei has been at the center of the trade and technology policy dispute between the U.S. and China, and charges against the company could increase tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The S&P 500 index gained 5.80 points, or 0.2%, to 2,616.10 after rising as much as 0.6% during the day. The S&P 500 is up 4.4% so far in January.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 141.57 points, or 0.6%, to 24,207.16. The Nasdaq composite rose 10.86 points, or 0.2%, to 7,034.69.

Smaller companies, especially small banks, did better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index rose 9.48 points, or 0.7%, to 1,454.70.

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Goldman Sachs posted strong results from its advisory business in the fourth quarter even though its trading business, like the rest of Wall Street, struggled as stock and bond markets went through huge swings. While some volatility gives traders an opportunity to make money, several financial firms have said last year’s swings were far too large for that. The S&P 500 fell 7% in October and then tumbled 9% in December, its worst month in nearly a decade.

Goldman’s stock jumped 9.5% to $197.08 after a steep slump over the last 10 months. Bank of America climbed 7.2% to $28.45 after its profit surged thanks to last year’s steady rise in interest rates, which has allowed it to charge customers more to use credit cards or take out a mortgage. Bank of America’s consumer banking business is by far its largest division by revenue and profits.

Investment firm BlackRock rose 3.1% to $413.04 and regional bank Comerica picked up 5.5% to $78.13 after they reported their quarterly results.

Britain’s FTSE 100 stock index slipped 0.5% after Parliament rejected the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May with European leaders over the country’s departure from the European Union. May’s government survived a vote of no confidence after the close of trading in Britain.

Economists warn that an abrupt break with the EU on March 29 could batter the British economy, which would face new tariffs and other trade barriers. Chaotic scenes at borders, ports and airports could also follow. But since investors have expected that outcome for some time, British stocks didn’t make big moves as May’s deal foundered.

The pound rose to $1.2876 from $1.2834. It’s fallen 6.6% in the last 12 months.

Fiserv is buying First Data in a $22-billion all-stock deal, creating a giant player in the payments and financial technology sector. First Data surged 21.1% to $21.24 and Fiserv lost 3.3% to $72.57.

Snap slumped again after the social media company said its chief financial officer is leaving after just eight months on the job. Tim Stone is the second Snap CFO to leave in the last year and he’s part of a string of top executives who have left in recent months. A redesign of Snapchat’s service has also been heavily criticized by users.

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Snap traded above $20 in February, but Wednesday’s loss of 13.8% brought it down to $5.64.

Benchmark U.S. crude added 0.4% to $52.31 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 0.1% to $61.37 a barrel in London.

Bond prices dipped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.72% from 2.70%.

Germany’s DAX rose 0.4% and France’s CAC 40 added 0.5%. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index, weighed down by weak machinery orders in November, slipped 0.6%. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.4% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.3%.

In other commodities trading, wholesale gasoline edged up 0.3% to $1.42 a gallon and heating oil rose 1.2% to $1.89 a gallon. Natural gas fell 3.3% to $3.38 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose 0.4% to $1,293.80 an ounce and silver inched up 0.1% to $15.64 an ounce. Copper rose 1.5% to $2.67 a pound.

The dollar rose to 108.92 yen from 108.57 yen. The euro slipped to $1.1398 from $1.1402.


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