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US stocks set more records after quiet pre-Christmas trading

December 23, 2019 GMT
FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2019, file photo trader Gregory Rowe, right, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. stock market opens at 9:30 a.m. EST on Monday, Dec. 23. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2019, file photo trader Gregory Rowe, right, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. stock market opens at 9:30 a.m. EST on Monday, Dec. 23. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Stocks closed modestly higher on Wall Street Monday, extending the major indexes’ milestone-shattering run.

The S&P 500 index notched its third-consecutive all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq composite also set record highs.

Technology, industrial and health care stocks led the gains. Energy companies rose along with the price of crude oil. Communication services stocks, household goods makers and banks fell. Utilities took the heaviest losses as investors shifted money away from more defensive sectors.

Shares of Boeing jumped after the company said its CEO has resigned, as the crisis related to its marquee 737 Max aircraft drags on. Apache Corp. soared after it announced a joint venture to develop an oil field in Suriname.

Homebuilders fell broadly after the Commerce Department said new home sales increased in November at a slower rate than analysts expected.

The market’s latest gains came on a day of mostly muted trading as investors kicked off a holiday shortened week. U.S. markets were scheduled to open for only a half day on Tuesday and then close Wednesday for Christmas.

“Right now, a lot of people have gone home for the year and the path of least resistance is higher,” said Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “It’s hard to see any kind of meaningful trend change between now and the end of the year.”

The S&P 500 inched up 2.79 points, or 0.1%, to 3,224.01. The Dow gained 96.44 points, or 0.3%, to 28,551.53.

The Nasdaq climbed 20.69 points, or 0.2%, to 8,945.65. The index, which is heavily weighted with technology stocks, is on a nine-day winning streak.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks rose 2.24 points, or 0.1%, to 1,674.14.

Bond prices fell. The 10-year Treasury yield rose to 1.93% from 1.91% late Friday.

Momentum for stocks has been clearly upward for months, driving the major stock indexes to record highs. The benchmark S&P 500 index has finished with a weekly gain in 10 out of the past 11 weeks.

Rising optimism around a “Phase 1” trade deal announced earlier this month between the United States and China has helped put investors in a buying mood. Fears about a possible recession have also faded since the summer after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates three times, and the central bank appears set to keep them low for a long time.

Meanwhile, the stock market is nearing what’s historically been a positive stretch for stocks. The last five trading days of each year, plus the first two in the new year, have brought an average gain of 1.3% since 1950, according to the Stock Trader’s Almanac.

“Unfortunately, we’ve probably pulled forward some returns from 2020,” Samana said. “Next year it gets a little bit more tricky with elections probably becoming a bigger focus that will lead to some more volatility.”

Technology stocks continued to add to their blockbuster gains Monday. The sector, which is up 47.2% with less than two weeks to go in 2019, helped lift the market. Apple rose 1.6%.

Energy stocks notched the biggest gain, 1.1%. It is the worst-performing of the S&P 500’s 11 sectors and is up 7.8% for the year.

Traders hammered homebuilding stocks after the Commerce Department said sales of newly built homes increased 1.3% in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 719,000 -- below the 730,000 rate analysts were expecting. New-home sales have increased 9.8% so far this year, thanks largely to a steady decline in mortgage rates.

“Housing was weak and that was probably a little bit due to rates slowly starting to creep back up,” Samana said.

Boeing rose 2.9% after the Chicago manufacturer said CEO Dennis Muilenburg is stepping down immediately over the company’s troubled Max 737 aircraft. The board’s current chairman David Calhoun will officially take over on January 13.

The board said a change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence in the company as it works to repair relationships with regulators and stakeholders. The Max was grounded worldwide in March after two crashes by 737s, killing a combined 346 people.

Traders bid up shares in Apache Corp. 17.3% on news of the oil and natural gas producer’s new joint venture.

Walt Disney shares fell 1.5% after box office receipts for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” failed to match the opening weekend performance of its recent predecessors.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil reversed an early slide, rising 8 cents to settle at $60.52 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, added 25 cents to close at $66.39 per barrel.

Wholesale gasoline was unchanged at $1.71 per gallon. Heating oil was unchanged at $2.02 per gallon. Natural gas fell 12 cents to $2.21 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $7.80 to $1,482.50 per ounce. Silver rose 27 cents to $17.40 per ounce and copper rose 2 cents to $2.82 per pound.

The dollar fell to 109.37 Japanese yen from 109.47 yen on Friday. The euro strengthened to $1.1093 from $1.1075.

Major stock indexes in Europe closed mostly higher.