UMB Financial Corp. and Commerce Bancshares Inc. — the two Kansas City banking titans — both climbed more than 1 percent Monday in a rather lackluster trading day on Wall Street.
Shares in UMB gained 1.6 percent while Commerce sahres gained 1.3 percent.
Otherwise there were few gainers of note. YRC finished up 1.2 percent.
Shares in Sprint, which is weighing a buyout offer this week from Tokyo-based SoftBank Corp., fell .8 percent.
In the broad market, not even a positive report from the Standard & Poor's ratings agency about the U.S. economy prompted much more than a yawn.
Stocks budged higher when trading opened, shortly after the S&P agency raised its outlook for the U.S. government's debt rating and credited “the strengths of the economy.” But the gains proved both modest and fickle, and the market spent most of the day flitting between small gains and losses.
At day's end, the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 were lower, but just barely. The Nasdaq composite was slightly higher. It was a marked change from Friday, when the Dow jumped 207 points after a jobs report that investors viewed as positive.
Trading volume was light, and there were no major economic reports or company announcements. The 10 industry sectors in the S&P were split down the middle, with half rising and half falling, but none moved dramatically. The best performer, telecommunications, was up 0.8 percent. The worst, consumer discretionary, was down 0.3 percent.
Booz Allen Hamilton slid after a company employee said he had leaked information about secret government surveillance programs. The consulting company's stock dropped 46 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $17.54.
The S&P's statement harkened back to August 2011, when the agency slashed its rating of the U.S. government's debt because Congress was in a heated battle over whether to raise government spending limits. The downgrade, an embarrassment to the U.S., also sent the stock market into a tailspin. The Dow plunged 634 points, or more than 5 percent, on the first trading day after the downgrade. The market had triple-digit swings throughout that fall.
On Monday, S&P upgraded its outlook on the U.S. debt rating to “Stable” from “Negative.” That doesn't restore the U.S. government's top-shelf credit rating, but it does mean that S&P is unlikely to cut the rating again in the near future.
S&P cited the Federal Reserve's willingness to keep interest rates low, which is meant to spur borrowing and spending, and its bond purchasing program, which is meant to encourage investors to buy stocks and other riskier assets. S&P also noted approvingly that Congress had agreed to raise some taxes this year, notably the Social Security tax that most workers pay, which has helped shrink the government's budget deficit.
The reaction from investors was a far cry from two summers ago. Some doubted the S&P's assessment that the economy is improving, and said the Fed is only artificially propping it up.
Ed Butowsky, managing partner of Chapwood Investments in Dallas, said that the unemployment rate is still too high, economic growth too weak and the government's budget deficit too heavy for the economy to be considered healthy.
“It defies economic logic as to why the S&P did this,” Butowsky said. “…We continue to print money, we continue to spend money. What are they looking at?”
Others agreed with the S&P's assessment, but said it was old news.
Jerry Webman, chief economist at OppenheimerFunds in New York, thinks the economy is strong enough to drive sustainable earnings growth, but not so strong that the Fed might pull the plug on its stimulus measures – a sentiment that seemed to drive Friday's rally. Still, he thinks investors shouldn't draw too many conclusions from a single S&P report.
“On the question of what's moving the U.S. stock market,” Webman said, “the answer is `Not much.“’
The Dow closed down 9.53 points at 15,238.59, a loss of 0.06 percent. The S&P 500 index was essentially flat, falling 0.57 point to 1,642.81, or 0.03 percent. The Nasdaq composite edged up 4.55 points to 3,473.77, a gain of 0.1 percent.
The BATS 1000 fell 3.88 points, or 0.02 percent, to close at 18,407.38.
Capitol Federal Financial rose 1 cents, or 0.08%, to close at $11.88.
Cerner Corp. fell 90 cents, or 0.91%, to close at $98.45.
Commerce Bancshares Inc. rose 57 cents, or 1.30%, to close at $44.50.
Compass Minerals rose 6 cents, or 0.07%, to close at $87.09.
DST Systems Inc. fell 23 cents, or 0.34%, to close at $67.85.
Ferrellgas Partners L.P. was unchanged at $22.00.
Garmin Ltd. rose 6 cents, or 0.17%, to close at $34.90.
Great Plains Energy rose 4 cents, or 0.18%, to close at $22.88.
H&R Block Inc. rose 6 cents, or 0.20%, to close at $29.90.
Inergy L.P. rose 7 cents, or 0.30%, to close at $23.29.
Kansas City Life Insurance Co. fell 1 cents, or 0.03%, to close at $39.05.
Kansas City Southern fell 24 cents, or 0.22%, to close at $110.23.
Layne Christensen Co. rose 2 cents, or 0.10%, to close at $20.03.
O'Reilly Automotive Inc. rose 11 cents, or 0.10%, to close at $111.10.
Sprint Nextel Corp. fell 6 cents, or 0.83%, to close at $7.18.
UMB Financial Corp. rose 83 cents, or 1.58%, to close at $53.51.
Waddell & Reed Financial Corp. rose 12 cents, or 0.26%, to close at $47.06.
YRC Worldwide Inc. rose 23 cents, or 1.18%, to close at $19.87.