Stocks Drift in Midday Trade; Tech Gains While Banks Fall

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

Major U.S. indexes are little changed Monday as technology and basic materials companies rise but energy and bank stocks fall. Stocks in Europe fell after the British government said it will formally begin the process of leaving the European Union next week.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost one point to reach 2,337 as of noon Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 28 points, or 0.1 percent, to 20,943. The Nasdaq composite added six points, or 0.1 percent, to reach 5,906. Small-company stocks fell. The Russell 2000 was down 7 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,384. More stocks fell than rose on the New York Stock Exchange.

BRITAIN MUST BE GOING: Britain’s government said it will trigger the process of leaving the EU on March 29. That will start a long negotiation between Britain and the EU, with uncertain effects for banks and other companies. The country is expected to officially leave the union in early 2019.

Bank of America fell 25 cents, or 1 percent, to $24.61 and Morgan Stanley slipped 31 cents to $44.71.

CURRENCY: The British pound fell to $1.2373 from $1.2396 late Friday, and it’s down about 20 percent since Britain voted to leave the EU in late June. The dollar declined to 112.66 yen from 112.70 yen. The euro rose to $1.0749 from $1.0743.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude declined 58 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $48.20 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 30 cents to reach $51.46 a barrel in London.

Drilling rig operator Transocean fell 41 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $12.07 and Concho Resources sank $1.43, or 1.1 percent, to $129.04.

DIAMOND? MINE! Dominion Diamond climbed $2.15, or 21.7 percent, to $12.07 after Washington Cos. went public with an offer to buy the diamond mining company for $13.50 per share, or about $1.1 billion. Dominion Diamond said it is willing to engage in talks but said Washington doesn’t have experience in the diamond industry and questioned the timing of the offer. Washington Cos. said it first made its offer in February and that Dominion Diamond isn’t willing to open its books.

WATCH STOPPED: Watchmaker Movado Group announced weak fourth-quarter results, and its forecasts for the current year were far lower than analysts expected. The company said the market for watches remains tough and that sales are continuing to shift to the web from physical stores, a problem that has hurt many retailers in recent years and continues to send their stocks downward. Movado fell 75 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $22.85 while department store operator Kohl’s slipped $1.43, or 3.5 percent, to $22.85, Macy’s shed 68 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $29.86 and Nordstrom slid $1.02, or 2.3 percent, to $42.90.

DRUG DEVELOPMENT: Nektar Therapeutics soared after the company said an experimental pain drug met its goals in a late-stage study. Its NKTR-181 is an opioid drug designed to relieve pain without causing euphoria, which the company said can contribute to drug abuse and addiction. It studied NKTR-181 as a treatment for lower back pain. Nektar stock rose $4.46, or 28.8 percent, to $19.96.

Array BioPharma fell 61 cents, or 5.8 percent, to $9.95 after it withdrew a marketing application for its melanoma drug binimetinib. After Array talked to regulators, the company said it was clear they wouldn’t approve the drug based on its most recent trial. It will continue studies of binemetinib.

TRADE: Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 major economies dropped a pledge to eschew protectionism in a statement Saturday under U.S. pressure. In his campaign to become president and since his inauguration, Donald Trump has sounded more protectionist than his predecessors. He has promised to rewrite trade deals and has ditched the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed pact between 12 countries that border the Pacific Ocean, which represented around 40 percent of global economic output.

BONDS: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.48 percent from 2.50 percent.

OVERSEAS: Britain’s FTSE 100 was little changed. France’s CAC-40 fell 0.1 percent and the DAX in Germany declined 0.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 0.8 percent and the Kospi in South Korea shed 0.4 percent. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday.

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