U.S. Stocks Edge Higher in Afternoon Trading; Oil Prices Slide

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(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Banks, insurers and other financial companies led U.S. stocks slightly higher in afternoon trading Tuesday, adding to modest gains from the day before. Technology stocks also helped lift the market, while health care companies lagged the most. Crude oil prices headed lower, giving up early gains.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,506 as of 1:31 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 41 points, or 0.1 percent, to 22,372. Both indexes closed at record highs on Monday. The Nasdaq composite added 4 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,459. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks was down less than 1 point to 1,440.

THE QUOTE: “People are still, as they usually are the day before a Fed announcement, kind of in a wait-and-see mode,” said Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA Research.

THE FED: Investors have their eye on the Federal Reserve, which was holding a two-day meeting of its policymakers. The panel was expected to deliver an update on the Fed’s view of the economy Wednesday. Forecasters expect the Fed to leave interest rates unchanged and stick to plans to raise rates in December. Traders will be listening for any indications that the central bank could move sooner on a rate increase and for details on the timing for when the Fed might start shrinking its multitrillion-dollar stockpile of bonds.

FINANCIALS RALLY: Speculation that the Fed will announce plans to unwind its balance sheet of bonds helped lift shares in banks and other financial companies. Such a move by the Fed would likely push long-term interest rates up. Banks benefit from higher rates, which can translate into higher profits from lending money. Wells Fargo gained 74 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $53.45.

STORM WEATHERED: Progressive climbed 3.3 percent after the insurer reported lower-than-expected losses from Hurricane Harvey. The company is the second insurer to report losses related to the hurricane, which battered Texas and Louisiana last month, that were far less than financial analysts expected. Progressive shares rose $1.53 to $47.84. Traders also bid up shares in other insurers. Allstate gained 55 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $91.03.

TECH RISING: Technology stocks were also among the big gainers. NetApp climbed $1.25, or 3.1 percent, to $41.88.

COMBO MEAL: Bob Evans Farms jumped 6.4 percent after the maker of frozen foods agreed to be acquired by Post Holdings in a deal worth about $1.53 billion. Shares in Bob Evans rose $4.64 to $77.58. Post, which makes cereals, including Honey Bunches of Oats and Fruity Pebbles, was up 4 cents to $85.88.

DEFENSE BOOST: Several big defense contractors were trading higher after President Donald Trump threatened the “total destruction” of North Korea if that nation’s leader does not abandon his drive toward nuclear weapons. Mr. Trump’s remarks came during his debut speech to the U.N. General Assembly. Lockheed Martin was up $2.58, or 0.8 percent, to $306.38. Northrop Grumman gained $2.08, or 0.8 percent, to $278.06.

DONE DEAL: Rite Aid and Walgreens Boots Alliance slumped after the Federal Trade Commission signed off on a deal that calls for Walgreens to buy 2,186 stores for $5.19 billion. That amounts to a much smaller deal than the companies originally sought when Walgreens pushed to buy Rite Aid. The companies abandoned that deal following opposition from regulators. Rite Aid shares fell 29 cents, or 10.8 percent, to $2.44. Walgreens slid 82 cents, or 1 percent, to $81.78.

HEALTH CARE UNCERTAINTY: Several health insurers and hospital operators were trading lower after top Senate Republicans said Tuesday that their last-ditch effort to overhaul President Barack Obama’s health-care law is gaining momentum. Envision Healthcare sank $4.38, or 9.2 percent, to $43.29. Aetna slid $5.34, or 3.3 percent, to $155.67. Centene, which administers Medicaid programs and sells health plans to the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, fell $4.61, or 4.9 percent, to $89.97.

BONDS: Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.24 percent from 2.23 percent late Monday.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 39 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $49.51 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, was down 41 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $55.09 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 111.72 yen from 111.47 yen on Monday. The euro strengthened to $1.1975 from $1.1953.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: Global shares were mixed. In Europe, Germany’s DAX was flat, while France’s CAC 40 rose 0.2 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares gained 0.3 percent. In Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 added nearly 2.0 percent coming off a national holiday on Monday. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 edged down 0.1 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi lost nearly 0.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell nearly 0.4 percent.