Retailers and Energy Companies Lead U.S. Stocks a Bit Higher

NEW YORK (AP) -

U.S. stock indexes finished with tiny gains Wednesday as retailers jumped after a strong hiring forecast from Target and energy companies rose along with oil prices.

Companies that sell everything from clothing to electronics rose after Target said it will hire 100,000 workers for the year-end shopping season. Energy companies rose after the U.S. government said oil and gasoline stockpiles shrank last week. Those gains were almost canceled out as technology and health care companies, which have led the market higher this year, slipped.

With stocks at record highs, investors hunted for bargains. Retailers and energy and telecommunications companies have all struggled this year and finished higher Wednesday.

One reason stocks may have held steady: the Federal Reserve will meet next week, and along with the usual questions about interest rates and the Fed’s balance sheet, investors are wondering about the central bank’s leadership. Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s four-year term will end in February and it’s not clear if President Donald Trump will re-appoint her or replace her.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 1.89 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,498.37. The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 39.32 points, or 0.2 percent, to 22,158.18. The Nasdaq composite rose 5.91 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,460.19. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gained 3.43 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,426.89.

Hard drive maker Western Digital slumped $3.04, or 3.4 percent, to $85.74 after its partner Toshiba said it will sell its computer memory business to a consortium led by Bain Capital Private Equity. Western Digital wants to buy that business and has filed a lawsuit to stop Toshiba from selling it to anyone else. Toshiba is trying to offset losses by its Westinghouse Electric nuclear business, which filed for bankruptcy protection in March.

Energy companies rose as benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.07, or 2.2 percent, to $49.30 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 89 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $55.16 a barrel in London.

Credit bureau Equifax hit an 18-month low in heavy trading. The company disclosed Thursday that personal data of about 143 million Americans was compromised in a cyberattack. Equifax has been criticized by Congress, state governments and consumers. The stock dropped another $16.97, or 14.6 percent, to $98.99. It traded above $142 last week before news of the attack broke.

Medicaid program administrator Centene said it will expand into New York through a $3.75 billion acquisition of Fidelis Care. Its stock jumped $7.28, or 8 percent, to $98.16. Centene has expanded into several states in the past year through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges.

Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.19 percent from 2.17 percent.

In other energy trading, heating oil rose 3 cents to $1.77 a gallon and wholesale gasoline lost 1 cent to $1.65 a gallon. Natural gas climbed 6 cents to $3.06 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold lost $4.70 to $1,328 an ounce. Silver declined 2 cents to $17.87 an ounce. Copper fell 6 cents to $2.98 a pound.

The dollar rose to 110.66 yen from 110.11 yen. The euro fell to $1.1873 from $1.1970.

The German DAX and CAC 40 in France both rose 0.2 percent. London’s FTSE 100 index declined 0.1 percent. In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 rose 0.4 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng declined 0.3 percent.