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Tech and energy stocks propel indexes to new record highs again

A trader works at the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A trader works at the New York Stock Exchange.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Big gains for technology and healthcare stocks helped U.S. indexes set records again Wednesday. Rising prices of crude and heating oil sent energy companies higher.

Chip makers including Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices made big gains, though Intel skidded on news that its processors have a security flaw that could slow down computers. Energy company Scana, which plunged after it canceled a $9-billion nuclear project and started raising rates to cover its costs, jumped after Dominion Energy agreed to buy it.

Energy companies jumped for the second day in a row as oil prices, already at 2½-year highs, rose again. One reason is that after a pipeline bombing in Libya last month and ongoing anti-government protests in Iran, investors are worried that oil supplies will get interrupted.

“Something that’s coming back into the market which we’ve been missing over the last few years is this geopolitical risk premium,” said Nick Koutsoftas, portfolio manager at Cohen & Steers. Investors didn’t worry much about those risks in recent years because big stockpiles of oil had built up. Those stockpiles are shrinking now, which has pushed up oil prices and made them more vulnerable to surprises.

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The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 17.25 points, or 0.6%, to 2,713.06. The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 98.67 points, or 0.4%, to 24,922.68. The Nasdaq composite climbed 58.63 points, or 0.8%, to 7,065.53. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks ticked up 2.56 points, or 0.2%, 1,552.58. All four finished at record highs.

Benchmark U.S. crude jumped $1.26, or 2.1%, to $61.63 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, climbed $1.27, or 1.8%, to $67.84 a barrel in London.

Heating oil and natural gas prices have also climbed as severe cold gripped much of the U.S. Heating oil rose 3 cents to $2.09 a gallon, and it’s up 12 cents since Dec. 22. Natural gas slid 5 cents to $3.01 per 1,000 cubic feet; it’s up 34 cents over that time.

In other commodities trading, wholesale gasoline rose 3 cents to $1.80 a gallon.

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Technology companies rose further. Nvidia climbed 6.6% to $212.47. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, advanced 1.7% to $1,091.52. IBM went up 2.7%, to $158.49.

Intel slumped 3.4% to $45.26 — in its highest trading volume in more than four years — after British technology site the Register reported a security problem that affects Intel’s processors and said fixing the problem could slow down computers that use them. Intel said that it is working to patch the problem and that the average computer user won’t experience a significant slowdown as the flaw is fixed. It also said the problem is not limited to its products.

Other chip makers’ stocks rose, but analysts weren’t sure the problem could threaten Intel’s sales.

Scana soared 22.6% to $47.65 and Dominion Energy slid 3.8% to $77.19 after Dominion agreed to buy Scana in a deal that expands the Richmond, Va., company’s business in the Carolinas. Dominion is valuing the deal at about $7.9 billion plus $6.7 billion in debt.

Scana traded above $70 a share in June but plunged after Scana and partner Santee Cooper said they were abandoning construction of two nuclear reactors. They blamed the project failure on the bankruptcy of contractor Westinghouse. The end of the project and Scana’s rate hikes led to harsh criticism and multiple government investigations, and the heads of both Scana and Santee Cooper both stepped down.

Money transfer company MoneyGram International dived 9% to $12.11 after U.S. regulators blocked the sale of the company to Ant Financial Services Group. It’s not clear why the $1.2-billion deal was rejected by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews proposed foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies on national security grounds. Ant Financial is linked to Alibaba and its chairman, Jack Ma.

Consumer products company Spectrum Brands climbed 8.8% to $118.94 after it said it will try to sell its batteries and appliances businesses. Spectrum, which makes Rayovac and Kwikset, wants to concentrate on its other divisions: hardware and home improvement, global auto care, global pet supplies and home and garden.

Bond prices rose after a sharp drop the day before. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.45% from 2.46%.

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Gold inched up $2.40 to $1,318.50 an ounce. Silver rose 6 cents to $17.27 an ounce. Copper fell 2 cents to $3.26 a pound.

The dollar rose to 112.52 yen from 112.27 yen. The euro fell to $1.2018 from $1.2055.

In overseas markets, Germany’s DAX and the French CAC 40 both climbed 0.8%. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.3%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index ticked up 0.1%, and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.3%. Markets in Japan were closed for New Year holidays; they reopen Thursday.


UPDATES:

2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.

7:45 a.m.: This article was updated with market prices and context.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.


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