Technology Companies Lead Stocks Higher After an Early Slide

NEW YORK (AP) -

Stocks recovered from an early wobble Monday, lifting the benchmark S&P 500 to its fourth straight gain.

Technology companies led the broad move higher, outweighing losses in health care, materials and utilities stocks.

The market had gotten off to a weak start after the government reported that factory orders fell in November, but by midday major indexes had turned higher.

Investors remained focused on the latest batch of corporate earnings, including solid results from Clorox and Sysco. Google parent Alphabet posted results that topped Wall Street’s estimates after the close of regular trading.

The S&P 500 index rose 18.34 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,724.87. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 175.48 points, or 0.7 percent, to 25,239.37. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite gained 83.67 points, or 1.2 percent, to 7,347.54.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies picked up 15.48 points, or 1 percent, to 1,517.54.

Stocks got off to a sluggish start as traders weighed a government report showing U.S. factory orders declined 0.6 percent in November. The drop, attributed mainly to lower demand for machinery and electrical equipment, surprised economists, who had forecast a slight increase.

Clorox Company climbed 5.7 percent to $158.38 after reporting earnings that came in ahead of analysts’ forecasts. Sysco’s latest quarterly snapshot also topped analysts’ estimates, driving shares in the food distributor up 4.8 percent to $66.64.

Just under half of S&P 500 companies have reported results for the last three months of 2018. Of those, about 71 percent have turned in results that exceeded financial analysts’ forecasts, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

In addition to positive earnings, the market has been riding a wave of positive momentum kicked off last week when the Federal Reserve signaled that it sees no need to raise interest rates anytime soon. Another batch of strong monthly U.S. jobs data also helped put investors in a buying mood.

Even so, uncertainty remains over the U.S.-China trade dispute, and its potential impact on corporate profits.

Papa John’s jumped 9 percent to $41.97 on news of a $200 investment from Starboard Value. Starboard CEO Steve Ritchie is also being named chairman of the troubled pizza chain.

Last week, the Louisville, Kentucky-based company’s stock plunged on reports that Trian Fund Management was no longer interested in a deal. The company also had a weak fourth quarter.

Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and other newspapers, slid 2.2 percent to $10.97 after the company rejected a $1.36 billion buyout from MNG Enterprises, a hedge-fund backed media group with a history of taking over newspapers and slashing jobs.

Health care sector stocks lagged the broader market. Allergan slid 3.8 percent to $138.53, while Celgene lost 2.3 percent to $87.57.

U.S. crude fell 1.3 percent to settle at $54.56 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, slipped 0.4 percent to close at $62.51 per barrel in London. The lower prices follow a round of supply cuts by OPEC in January and more U.S. sanctions against Venezuela.