Stock indexes approach record highs as automakers and retailers rise

Flags fly at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

U .S. stocks climbed Wednesday as investors bought shares of companies focused on consumers, including automakers and retailers. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index finished a single point below its all-time high.

General Motors and Ford jumped as car companies reported generally strong sales for December. Companies that mine for metals and make chemicals and other materials climbed as the dollar receded a bit from its recent highs. Small-company stocks did well: The Russell 2000 index outpaced other major indexes and missed a record close by a whisker.

Investors snapped up consumer-focused stocks that haven’t done much celebrating since the election, such as apparel and accessories retailers and discount store chains. Urban Outfitters is down about 11% since the November election, and Gap has fallen almost that much.

“They were afterthoughts in a lot of respects,” said Julian Emanuel, an equity strategist for UBS. But Emanuel said he expects those stocks to rise this year because consumer confidence remains high.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 60.40 points, or 0.3%, to 19,942.16. The blue-chip index was held back by small losses from energy giant Exxon Mobil and insurer Travelers.


The S&P 500 advanced 12.92 points, or 0.6%, to 2,270.75. The Nasdaq composite climbed 47.92 points, or 0.9%, to 5,477. The Russell 2000 jumped 22.46 points, or 1.6%, to 1,387.95.

Companies that sell clothes, jewelry, athletic gear and discount goods have fallen or lagged behind the overall market over the last two months. That changed a bit Wednesday. Gap rose 3.1% to $24.20, and discount retailer Dollar Tree, which has slumped since late November, went up 2.6% to $79.45.

Under Armour climbed 3.1% to $26.57, and auto parts supplier Delphi Automotive jumped 3.7% to $70.04. Delphi said Wednesday that it bought Movimento, an automotive software company.

General Motors said its total U.S. sales climbed 10% last month from a year ago and its stock rose 5.5% to $37.09. Ford climbed 4.6% to $13.17. That came as U.S. vehicle sales set records for the seventh year in a row. Sales are expected to slip in 2017.

Companies that mine for metals and make basic materials rose as the dollar slipped away from recent highs.

Freeport-McMoRan jumped 7.6% to $14.83 as the price of copper jumped. Other materials makers also rose. Chemicals maker LyondellBassell Industries advanced 2.2% to $88.79 and Mosaic went up 4.3% to $30.81.

The dollar fell to 117.60 yen from 117.68 yen. The euro rose to $1.0467 from $1.0410.

Rental car company Hertz climbed 4.9% to $23.63 after investor Gamco Asset Management increased its stake in the company to 5.1%. A number of other activist investors own stock in Hertz. The largest by far is billionaire Carl Icahn, who holds a 35% stake.

Shake Shack jumped 7.7% to $38.90. The company was added to the S&P SmallCap 600 index after the close of trading Wednesday. When a company is added to a major stock index, it typically trades higher as it’s added to various portfolios. The burger chain replaced Chemours, a former unit of DuPont, which became part of the S&P 500.

Oil prices bounced back from early losses. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 93 cents, or 1.8%, to $53.26 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 99 cents, or 1.8%, to $56.46 a barrel.

The price of natural gas fell 1.8%, to $3.33 per 1,000 cubic feet, after a Tuesday drop of almost 11%. Wholesale gasoline rose 2 cents to $1.65 a gallon. Heating oil edged up 2 cents to $1.69 a gallon.

Bond prices inched higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.44% from 2.45%.

Gold rose $3.30 to $1,165.30 an ounce, and silver rose 14 cents to $16.55 an ounce. Copper rose 7 cents, or 2.7%, to $2.56 a pound.

France’s CAC 40 and the DAX in Germany both finished little changed. The FTSE 100 of Britain rose 0.2% to another all-time high. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 added 2.5% in its first trading day of 2017, partly because the weak yen will help Japanese exporters such as Honda. South Korea’s Kospi gained nearly 0.1% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.1%.


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2:15 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.

8:25 a.m.: This article was updated with market prices and context.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.