US stocks move higher as health care vote remains uncertain

Author: Associated Press
Traders work on the Mizuho Americas trading floor in New York. Stocks are opening higher on Wall Street, on Friday, March 24, 2017, led by gains in technology companies and banks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

NEW YORK (AP) U.S. stocks are higher Friday as technology companies rise, but challenges to the Republican-backed American Health Care Act are again weighing on the market. For most of this week investors have been waiting for answers about the fate of the bill, which is scheduled to be voted on later Friday after it was delayed a day ago. Stocks are on track for their biggest weekly loss of 2017.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index picked up 6 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,351 as of 1 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average added 13 points, or 0.1 percent, to 20,669. It rose as much as 61 points earlier on. The Nasdaq composite jumped 32 points, or 0.5 percent, to 5,849. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks advanced 6 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,359.

TECH LEADS: Technology companies made the biggest gains on the market, continuing a strong run over the last few months. Chipmaker Micron Technology surged $2.30, or 8.7 percent, to $28.77 after its second-quarter earnings were much better than analysts expected, and data storage company Western Digital jumped $2.49, or 3.3 percent, to $78.68.

Also rising were utility companies like WEC Energy and PG&E, and consumer-focused companies like Starbucks, Nike, and clothing company PVH.

HEALTH BILL HOLDUP: Investors aren’t overwhelmingly concerned about the health care bill itself, but they wonder if a failed vote or a long debate would delay aspects of President Donald Trump’s agenda that the market is more excited about. Those include tax cuts, greater infrastructure spending, and cuts in regulations.

The legislation would provide tax credits for people buying their own insurance and would scale back the government’s role in helping people afford coverage. It would likely leave more Americans uninsured and would make big changes to Medicaid, a joint federal-state health program for low-income Americans.

Health care investors appeared to be wagering that the bill will fail. Hospital operators like HCA Holdings and Universal Health Systems rose, and so did insurers that do a lot of business with Medicaid, like Centene and Molina Healthcare. When the act was introduced, those stocks traded lower because investors were concerned hospitals would have to take in more patients who lack insurance and that insurers would get less money from Medicaid. The largest national health insurers were mixed Friday.

MATERIALS SKIDDING: Construction materials maker Vulcan Materials fell $2.01, or 1.7 percent, to $113.38. Martin Marietta Materials, which sells granite, limestone, sand and gravel, lost $2.90, or 1.4 percent, to $210.59. Steel maker Nucor declined 87 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $60.39.

MAKING A SPLASH: SeaWorld Entertainment jumped after a big investment from China. SeaWorld said real estate holding company Zhonghong Zhuoye Group bought a 21 percent stake from Blackstone Group. It said the Chinese firm paid $23 a share, and an executive will join SeaWorld’s board. The stock has struggled in recent years because of controversy over the condition of SeaWorld’s killer whales, which hurt attendance. The stock gained $1.08, or 6.2 percent, to $18.39 Friday.

FULL STOP: Video game retailer GameStop disclosed weaker-than-expected revenue as consumers cut back on shopping while they waited for companies to introduce the next generation of game systems. GameStop’s forecasts for this year fell far short of analyst forecasts. The company said it expects to earn between $3.10 to $3.40 per share in its current fiscal year, while FactSet says analysts expected $3.73 a share. The stock dropped $2.99, or 12.5 percent, to $20.97.

NOT A PHOTO FINISH: Sport shoe retailer The Finish Line slumped after the company said it had to cut prices in the fourth quarter because consumers didn’t like some of its products. Like many other retailers, it also faced generally tough business conditions. The company reported a loss due to impairment charges and it cut its annual profit outlook. The stock shed $3.09, or 19.2 percent, to $12.97.

BONDS: Bond prices rose slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.41 percent from 2.42 percent.

ENERGY: U.S. crude oil futures rose 14 cents to $47.84 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 13 cents to $50.79 a barrel in London. Energy companies took small losses, however.

CURRENCIES: The dollar inched down to 111.05 yen from 111.07 yen. The euro edged up to $1.0804 from $1.0786.

OVERSEAS: In Germany, the DAX added 0.2 percent and the French CAC 40 dropped 0.2 percent and Britain’s FTSE 100 index dipped 0.1 percent. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 0.9 percent following recent losses. The Kospi of South Korea shed 0.2 percent while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng reversed earlier losses to finish 0.1 percent higher.

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