US stocks mixed in afternoon trading as oil prices slide
By Alex Veiga
A slide in oil and natural gas companies led U.S. stock indexes mostly lower Monday, even as the Nasdaq composite index eked out another record high.
Energy sector stocks declined the most, weighed down by lower prices for crude oil and other energy futures. Utilities and phone company stocks also fell sharply. But gains among health care and technology stocks helped lift the Nasdaq, extending a winning streak into its fifth day.
Absent major new economic data, investors mostly focused on company earnings and several corporate deals, including UnitedHealth’s $2.3 billion cash-and-stock buyout of Surgical Care Affiliates.
All told, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 76.42 points, or 0.4 percent, to 19,887.38. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slid 8.08 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,268.90. The Nasdaq rose 10.76 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,531.82.
The market’s postelection rally sputtered the last week of December. So far this year, the major stock indexes have mostly inched higher. That could change toward the end of the week, when the next big wave of company earnings news starts rolling in.
“It really gets down to earnings now,” said Jim Davis, regional investment strategist at the Private Client Group at U.S. Bank. “The last few quarters, the bar has been set pretty low, basically flat earnings growth. Investors are expecting some earnings growth this year.”
Disappointing quarterly earnings pulled Acuity Brands down nearly 15 percent, making it the biggest decliner in the S&P 500 on Monday. The lighting maker’s results fell well short of what analysts were expecting. The stock slid $34.85 to $202.51.
Investors rewarded strong earnings from Global Payments. The electronic payment processing company climbed 7.2 percent. The stock led all the gainers in the S&P 500, adding $5.34 to $79.79.
Company deals sent some stocks higher.
Insurer UnitedHealth’s bid for Surgical Care Affiliates drove the surgical care center operator’s shares up $7.90, or 16.2 percent, to $56.65. UnitedHealth slipped 46 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $161.95.
VCA vaulted 28.3 percent after the pet health care company agreed to be acquired by food and drinks company Mars Inc. for around $7.7 billion. The deal also includes $1.4 billion in debt. Shares in VCA added $20.02 to $90.79.
Several oil and gas companies also racked up losses as energy futures prices fell.
Southwestern Energy fell 50 cents, or 4.9 percent, to $9.75, while Range Resources lost $1.47, or 4.3 percent, to $32.76. Devon Energy was off $2.09, or 4.3 percent, at $46.58.
U.S. benchmark crude oil fell $2.03, or 3.8 percent, to close at $51.96 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price oil sold internationally, slid $2.16, or 3.8 percent, to close at $54.94 a barrel in London.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline lost 6 cents to $1.57 a gallon and heating oil fell 7 cents to $1.64 a gallon. Natural gas futures shed 18 cents, or 5.5 percent, to $3.10 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Markets overseas were also mixed.
In Europe, Germany’s DAX fell 0.3 percent, while France’s CAC 40 slid 0.5 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.4 percent. Earlier in Asia, Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng index rose 0.3 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.1 percent. Markets in Japan were closed for a holiday.
Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.37 percent from 2.42 percent late Friday.
The pound fell to $1.2163 from $1.2274, its lowest level since October, amid indications the British government is inclined to opt for a full break away from the European Union’s single market. The dollar fell to 116.06 yen from 117.02 yen in late trading Friday. The euro rose to $1.0577 from $1.0532.
In metals trading, the price of gold rose $11.50, or 1 percent, to $1,184.90 an ounce. Silver added 16 cents, or 1 percent, to $16.68 an ounce. Copper fell a penny to $2.54 a pound.