After a shaky start, U.S. stocks finished mostly higher Wednesday as technology and industrial companies rose. Banks fell with interest rates as the market came off its biggest loss in five months.
Stocks started down, then rallied in the middle of the session and wandered between gains and losses for several hours before a late push.
Technology companies led the market, as they have done throughout this year. Gains for shipping company FedEx helped lift industrial firms. Nike took its biggest one-day loss in five years as investors were disappointed by its quarterly sales and outlook, and 130-year-old retailer Sears plunged after it said it may not be able to stay in business.
A day earlier, stocks dropped as Wall Street wondered whether key aspects of President Trump's agenda, such as tax cuts and increased infrastructure spending, will be delayed. The Republican-backed American Health Care Act appeared to be in trouble as the House of Representatives prepare to vote on it Thursday.
Terry Simpson, a multi-asset strategist for BlackRock, said it's noteworthy that even though the bill's fate is unclear, stocks didn't fall any further Wednesday.
"The market really wants to believe in the new administration," he said. But if the bill falters in the House on Thursday or, later, in the Senate, investors will have "increased doubt in the ability to pass the pro-growth agenda."
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 4.43 points, or 0.2%, to 2,348.45. Nike dragged down the Dow Jones industrial average, which fell 6.71 points to 20,661.30. The Nasdaq composite rose 27.82 points, or 0.5%, to 5,821.64. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies sank 0.95 of a point, or 0.1%, to 1,345.60.
Apple rose 1.1% to $141.42, Microsoft climbed 1.3% to $65.03 and chipmaker Nvidia advanced 2% to $108.07. The S&P 500's technology index is up 11% in 2017, more than double the gain for the broader S&P 500.
Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.40% from 2.42%. Lower bond yields mean lower interest rates, and those reduce the profits banks can make from lending.
Investors snapped up high-dividend utilities and real estate investment trusts as bond yields fell. Exelon rose 0.9% to $36.30 and Consolidated Edison rose 1% to $78.11. Utilities are the best-performing part of the S&P 500 over the last month.
Sears dived 12.3% to $7.98 after it said in a regulatory filing that there is "substantial doubt" it will be able to remain in business. The parent company of Sears and Kmart has closed more than 2,000 stores and slashed spending and jobs, and it has sold brands and split off its real estate assets to raise cash. The company continues to lose billions a year as its sales fall further. It said pension agreements may prevent it from spinning off other businesses. Shares of the company's real estate investment trust, Seritage, fell 2.1% to $42.63.
Nike dropped 7.1% to $53.92, its biggest loss since June 2012, after reporting slightly disappointing third-quarter sales and releasing forecasts for the current period that displeased investors as well. Nike is up this year but hasn't recovered from a 19% tumble in 2016. Investors have worried about Nike's intense competition with rivals Under Armour and Adidas.
Although shipping company FedEx didn't have a great holiday season, its revenue was a bit better than expected and analysts said they think its business is going to improve. Its stock rose 2.1% to $195.92. Railroad and airplane companies also climbed.
Mallinckrodt fell 3.4% to $42.54 after San Diego-based Imprimis Pharmaceuticals said it is studying a drug that would compete with Mallinckrodt's costly drug HP Acthar gel. Imprimis rose 2.5% to $2.48.
Oil prices continued to fall after the U.S. government said fuel stockpiles grew more than expected last week. U.S. crude fell 20 cents to $48.04 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 32 cents to $50.64 a barrel.
Wholesale gasoline remained at $1.60 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1 cent to $1.50 a gallon. Natural gas fell 8 cents to $3.01 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Gold rose for the fifth day in a row, edging up $3.20 to $1,249.70 an ounce. Silver fell less than 1 cent to $17.58 an ounce. Copper rose 1 cent to $1.63 a pound.
The dollar fell to 110.92 yen from 111.90 yen. The euro slipped to $1.0798 from $1.0804.
Stocks overseas finished lower. The British FTSE 100 index declined 0.7%. The German DAX fell 0.5% and the CAC 40 in France lost 0.2%. In Japan the Nikkei 225 stock index dropped 2.1% as the yen strengthened against the dollar, which hurts Japanese exporters. The Hang Seng of Hong Kong dropped 1.1% and the South Korea's Kospi lost 0.5%.
2:45 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.