Financial markets in the U.S. edged higher at midday Friday in quiet trading a day after Christmas. Falling oil and natural gas prices helped bolster expectations for stronger consumer spending heading into next year. Utilities stocks were among the biggest gainers.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 43 points, or 0.2 percent, to 18,073 as of 12:07 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 gained eight points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,089. The Nasdaq composite added 25 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,799.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 57 cents to $55.27 a barrel. Oil prices have been a major focus in markets over the past few weeks as they have fallen by about a half since the summer. Natural gas slipped 3 cents to $3 per 1,000 cubic feet.
THE QUOTE: Investors are cheering the slide in oil and natural gas prices, anticipating the trend should help boost consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy, said Phil Blancato, CEO and president of Ladenburg Thalmann Asset Management.
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Also giving the market a lift: Money managers typically put remaining cash back to work in their funds ahead of the end of the year.
“They realize they’re in the strongest spending season of the year, so it’s hard not to find good data,” Blancato said. “There’s lighter volume with people being out of the office, so there’s a lot on your side that’s going to drive the market.”
SECTOR VIEW: All 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index moved higher, led by utilities stocks. The sector is up 28.2 percent this year. Freeport-McMoRan notched the biggest gain among individual stocks in the S&P 500, adding 85 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $23.76. The mineral assets, oil, and natural gas company announced a successful production test from a well located in South Louisiana. Newfield Exploration declined the most, shedding 54 cents, or 2 percent, to $27.32.
BUMPING UP BIOTECH: Shares in two biotech companies surged in morning trading. Cytokinetics gained 9.2 percent on news the company will continue advancing development of a muscle-weakness treatment with its partner, Astellas Pharma. The stock rose 54 cents to $6.41. Juno Therapeutics climbed 8.3 percent. The company closed its initial public offering on Wednesday. The stock gained $3.15 to $43.14.
HIGH ON VIRGIN: Virgin America jumped 7.3 percent after several financial firms issued bullish recommendations for the airline company’s stock. Its shares added $3.05 to $44.05.
MARKETS OVERSEAS: Major European markets were closed. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.1 percent amid expectations of further government stimulus. South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.1 percent. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 2.8 percent, led by gains transportation and property development shares.
BONDS: U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.26 percent.