U.S. Stocks Start 2018 With Gains as Technology Leads Again

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

U.S. stocks are starting the new year higher, thanks in part to gains in technology and health-care companies, some of the market’s biggest winners from 2017. Retailers are also up. Natural gas prices are rising as cold weather continues to grip much of the U.S. Bond yields are higher. Asian stocks climbed following strong economic data from China.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 17 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,691 as of 12:10 p.m. Eastern time as investors got back to trading following a break for New Year’s Day on Monday. The S&P 500 is once again trading around record highs after its 19 percent climb in 2017. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 50 points, or 0.2 percent, to 24,768. The Nasdaq composite jumped 86 points, or 1.2 percent, to 6,980. The Russell 2000 index, which consists of smaller company stocks, gained 10 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,546.

CAN THEY DO IT AGAIN: Facebook rose $4.20, or 2.4 percent, to $180.70; and graphics chipmaker Nvidia advanced $4.46, or 2.2 percent, to $197.96 as technology companies climbed further. The technology index of the S&P 500 surged almost 37 percent last year as big names including Facebook, Apple and Microsoft reached all-time highs. The Nasdaq climbed 28 percent.

Drug and medical-device companies led the health-care sector higher. Gilead Sciences gained $2.15, or 3 percent, to $73.76. Abbott Laboratories — which sells medications, infant formula and medical devices — picked up $1.84, or 3.2 percent, to $58.90; and Baxter International gained $3.28, or 5 percent, to $67.92.

Retailers also rose. Amazon added $17.62, or 1.5 percent, to $1,187.04. Target rose $2.15, or 3.3 percent, to $67.39; and Kohl’s added $1.72, or 3.2 percent, to $55.97. Early indications suggest shoppers had a busy year-end shopping season, and investors will look for confirmation of those reports in the weeks to come.

BONDS: Bond prices slid. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.46 percent from 2.41 percent. The yield on 2-year note rose to 1.91 percent from 1.89 percent.

The increase in bond yields sent high-dividend stocks like utilities, household goods makers and real estate companies lower. Higher bond yields make those stocks less appealing to investors seeking income.

The Federal Reserve expects to keep raising interest rates this year. If so, it will do it under new leadership, as Fed governor Jerome Powell will replace Chair Janet Yellen in February.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 58 cents to $60.42 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 71 cents to $66.87 barrel in London. A rally late in the year sent crude oil to its highest price since June 2015.

Natural gas futures climbed 10 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $2.738 per 1,000 cubic feet. Natural gas is mostly used to heat homes and demand often rises in frigid weather.

CURRENCY: The dollar fell to 112.11 yen from 112.64 yen. The euro rose to $1.2048 from $1.2012. The dollar declined steadily in 2017, and the ICE U.S. dollar index slumped 10 percent, its biggest decline since 2003. The improved global economy was responsible for much of that decline, however, and the weaker dollar makes U.S. exports less expensive in other markets.

OVERSEAS: Germany’s DAX fell 0.2 percent, and France’s CAC 40 shed 0.4 percent. The British FTSE 100 retreated 0.6 percent.

Asian markets mostly did better. A survey by Chinese business magazine Caixin found manufacturing grew in December at the fastest rate in four months. In India, a survey showed manufacturing hit a five-year high in December. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong gained 2 percent, and Seoul’s Kospi gained 0.5 percent. Markets in Japan were closed for a holiday.

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