U.S. Stock Indexes Waver on Last Day of a Record-Breaking Year

(AP) -
Traders at the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Stocks moved between small gains and losses on Wall Street Tuesday, the final day of trading in 2019.

Losses in health-care and industrial stocks as well as companies that rely on consumer spending led the selling, outweighing gains in energy, materials and real estate. Bond prices fell, sending yields higher. Gold rose and crude oil fell.

The S&P 500 is on pace to finish the year up 28.3%, the biggest annual gain since 2013. The benchmark index has risen for five straight weeks, hitting a number of all-time highs along the way. It’s on track to close out December with its fourth consecutive monthly gain.

The market’s trajectory to a strong finish for the year began in October as stocks emerged from a late-summer slump caused by fears that the U.S. economy could be headed for a recession. Those concerns eased as investors drew encouragement from surprisingly good third-quarter corporate earnings, a third interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve and other data showing the economy was not slowing as much as economists had feared.

A truce in the 17-month U.S.-China trade war helped keep investors in a buying mood through the end of the year. Washington and Beijing announced in December they reached an agreement over a “Phase 1” trade deal that calls for the U.S. to reduce tariffs and China to buy larger quantities of U.S. farm products.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he will sign the initial trade deal with China at the White House next month. He also said he plans to travel to Beijing at a later date to open talks on other sticking points in the U.S.-China trade relationship that remain to be worked out, including Chinese practices the U.S. complains unfairly favor its own companies.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was down 0.1% as of 12:45 p.m., Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 45 points, or 0.2%, to 28,416. The index is up 21.8% this year.

The Nasdaq composite rose less than 0.1%. The index, which is heavily weighted with technology stocks, is on pace for a full-year gain of 34.9%.

Smaller company stocks fared better than the rest of the market, sending the Russell 2000 index 0.4% higher. The Russell is on pace to end the year with a 24% gain.

U.S. markets are open for a full trading day before Wednesday January 1st. They re-open Thursday.

GOING TO COURT? Shares in McDermott International slumped 11% after The Wall Street Journal reported that the engineering company is considering filing for bankruptcy.

CALL THE DOCTOR: Health-care sector stocks accounted for a big slice of the selling Tuesday, with shares in several health insurers moving lower. Anthem slid 1.5%. Humana dropped 1%.

BOND YIELDS: Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.91% from 1.89% late Thursday.

MILESTONES APLENTY: The S&P 500 has set record highs 35 times this year, up from 19 last year. The benchmark index closed above 3,000 points for the first time in September.

The Dow, which climbed above the 28,000 mark for the first time in November, has set 22 record highs this year, eclipsing the 15 it set in 2018.

The Nasdaq, which closed above 9,000 for the first time in late December, has marked 31 new highs this year, beating last year’s 16 times.

TECH’S BIG YEAR: Technology stocks have helped power the broader market’s gains this year. Tech is on track to finish 2019 with a gain of about 47.4%, well ahead of the other 10 sectors in the S&P 500.

BANKING ON BANKS: Financial sector stocks, especially big banks, posted strong gains in 2019, despite a sharp pullback in interest rates.

The sector is up 28.7% for the year, while JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup are each up over 40%.

COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 12 cents to $61.56 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, dropped 29 cents to $66.38 per barrel.

The price of gold rose $6.20 to $1,524.80 per ounce.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: Britain’s FTSE 100 slipped 0.6%, while the CAC 40 in Paris shed 0.1%. Germany’s markets were closed. In Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 0.5%, while in Australia the S&P ASX 200 declined 1.7%. Many markets, including those in Tokyo and Seoul, have already ended trading for 2019.