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Health stocks skid, and the Dow finishes shy of 20,000

Health stocks skid, and the Dow finishes shy of 20,000
A trader wearing a "Dow 20,000" hat works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in December. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Stocks finished slightly lower Wednesday as healthcare companies continued to struggle. Energy companies rose as the price of natural gas surged on the first day of winter.

Some traders aren't sticking around to see if the Dow Jones industrial average reaches the 20,000-point milestone: Trading volume has fallen sharply this week as the year-end holidays draw near.

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After a mixed open, stocks finished at their lowest prices of the day. Healthcare companies continued to lag behind the overall market, as they've done throughout 2016. Industrial companies, which have surged since the November presidential election, also eased lower. A jump of almost 9% in the price of natural gas helped gas and pipeline companies move higher.

"It looks like we're going to see another cold blast," said Jim Ritterbusch, an analyst who advises oil traders. He said weather forecasts suggest temperatures will drop next week, which means that people will use more natural gas to heat their homes.

The Dow fell 32.66 points, or 0.2%, to 19,941.96. The Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 5.58 points, or 0.2%, to 2,265.18. The Nasdaq composite closed down 12.51 points, or 0.2%, to 5,471.43.

Cancer drug maker Celgene skidded 2.3% to $116.40, Merck declined 1.8% to $59.43 and health insurance company Anthem dropped 1.8% to $144.98 as healthcare stocks fell. The S&P 500 healthcare index is down 4.4% this year. The overall S&P 500 is up almost 11%.

Natural gas companies made big gains thanks to a surge in natural gas futures. The price of that fuel climbed 28 cents, or 8.6%, to $3.54 per 1,000 cubic feet. Southwestern Energy jumped 5.8% to $10.98 and Cabot Oil & Gas climbed 2.8% to $22.44. Drilling service and pipeline companies also rose.

The price of natural gas has fluctuated sharply in the last few months.

"Whenever you get extreme volatility in the weather patterns, that translates to price volatility in futures," Ritterbusch said.

FedEx sank 3.3% to $192.12 after it said its quarterly expenses climbed and its earnings fell short of Wall Street estimates.

Twitter slumped 4.7% to $17.08 after Chief Technology Officer Adam Messinger said he's leaving the struggling company. Twitter has seen a number of executives leave recently. Former Chief Operating Officer Adam Bain left in November. In October, Twitter said it would eliminate 9% of its workforce.

AMC Entertainment climbed 3.7% to $34.70 after it took a step toward completing its purchase of competitor Carmike Cinemas.

InvenSense jumped 17.6% to $12.75 after the San Jose maker of mobile gyroscopes agreed to be acquired by Japan's TDK Corp. for $13 a share, or $1.22 billion.

Nike rose 1% to $52.30 after its second-quarter profit and sales came in stronger than analysts expected. Nike is by far the worst performer on the Dow this year. Its stock has tumbled 16% in part because of competition with Under Armour. Investors fear the rivalry is affecting both companies.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 81 cents, or 1.5%, to $52.49 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, sank 89 cents, or 1.6%, to $54.46 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.61 a gallon. Heating oil fell 3 cents, or 1.7%, to $1.64 a gallon.

The dollar fell to 117.54 yen from 118.04 yen. The euro rose to $1.0427 from $1.0377.

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Bond prices inched higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slid to 2.54% from 2.56%.

Gold fell 40 cents to $1,133.20 an ounce. Silver fell 14 cents to $15.98 an ounce. Copper stayed at $2.50 a pound.

The CAC-40 in France fell 0.3%. Britain's FTSE 100 and Germany's DAX finished little changed. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng rose 0.4%. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 shed 0.3%. The South Korean Kospi retreated 0.2%.

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UPDATES:

2:25 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comments.

8:10 a.m.: This article was updated with market prices and context.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.

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