US Markets

Stocks fall but post weekly gains; health care lags, falls 1%

Pisani: Merging markets having tough time
Pisani: Merging markets having tough time

U.S. equities closed slightly lower on Friday, led by health care, as investors digested Federal Reserve officials' remarks on monetary policy and falling oil prices.

"It looks like the market's consolidating a bit," said Ernie Cecilia, CIO at Bryn Mawr Trust. "We've had an interesting run." "When you look at [the S&P 500], if you go back to Nov. 4, it closed at 2,085. We're now around 2,180."

The Nasdaq composite fell around 0.2 percent after hitting an intraday record of 5,346.8 earlier in the session. The S&P 500 slipped about a quarter of a percent, with health care falling 1.14 percent to lead decliners.

"Signs of short-term exhaustion have arisen in macro-level indices representing stocks, bonds, commodities, and currencies," said Katie Stockton, chief technical strategist at BTIG, in an email. "This tells us to expect a pause in their steep upmoves/downmoves in the next 1-2 weeks as overbought/oversold conditions are absorbed."

The Dow Jones industrial average closed about 35 points lower after opening slightly higher, with Merck contributing the most losses.

"I think we're at a point now where we a transitioning from the reaction to the election to a reaction to the current fundamentals, which is important," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. He pointed to higher Treasury yields, the rise in the U.S. dollar and higher oil prices.

U.S. crude oil futures fell 0.59 percent to settle at $45.69 a barrel, after Baker Hughes said U.S. oil rigs increased by 19 to 471. WTI also rose 5.25 percent this week, marking its first positive week in four.

Entering Friday's session, the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite were all within half a percent of their previous all-time highs. The Dow had reached a record intraday high of 18,934.05 on Monday — on the back of a sharp post-election rally — while the S&P last set a record high of 2,193.81 on Aug. 15.

"To me, what's strange is the optimism" in the stock market, said Rob Bartenstein, CEO of Kestra Private Wealth Services. "It might be ephemeral, ... but it's driving the market in a way that I haven't seen in a long time."

All three indexes posted weekly gains, with the Nasdaq outperforming, up more than 1.6 percent for the week. The small-cap Russell 2000 posted gains for the 11th straight day, registering its longest win streak since a 12-session advance that lasted from May 20 to June 5, 2003.

Several Fed officials spoke on Friday, including Kansas City Fed President Esther George. In a speech, she said the U.S. economy would benefit from the Federal Reserve raising rates sooner rather than later. Earlier, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said he is leaning towards supporting a rate hike next month and argued on Friday that the real question now is the Fed's rate path in 2017.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Think Markets, told CNBC in an email that Bullard also said "inflation needs to be above their target to speed hikes. Basically, what he is saying is that the future path of rate hike may not be that steep."

Dallas Fed Bank President Robert Kaplan on Friday reiterated that he thinks it is nearly time for the U.S. central bank to raise interest rates.

"I think, and I've been saying, we're at the point where we're ready to remove some accommodation in the near future," Kaplan said in a television interview with Fox Business Network. "I still feel that way heading into December."

Bullard's and Kaplan's remarks followed Fed Chair Janet Yellen's testimony in Congress on Thursday, which all but assured the central bank would raise interest rates next month. According to the CME Group's FedWatch tool, market expectations for a rate hike in December were above 90 percent Friday morning.

"Nothing in Janet Yellen's testimony to Congress on Thursday suggests anything different. Hence, monetary policy for the short term remains extremely transparent to source a stiff tailwind at the back of stocks. The looming specter of the central bank tightening next month should not disturb a Santa Claus rally that has already commenced," said Jeremy Klein, chief market strategist at FBN Securities, said in a note.

Yellen's hawkish remarks sent the dollar index to its highest level in nearly 14 years, while U.S. Treasury yields held near recent highs.

The U.S. dollar index traded higher on Friday, above 101, and hit its highest level since April 2003. The euro was near $1.06 and the at 110.9 yen versus the greenback.

"With speculations mounting over Donald Trump cutting taxes and boosting infrastructure spending, the Fed may be forced to repeatedly raise US rates in 2017 in an effort to control inflation," Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at FXTM, said in a note.

In afternoon Friday trade, the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield was higher near 2.34 percent and the was around 1.07 percent.

Overseas, the Chinese yuan hit a fresh eight-year low. The Nikkei 225 closed about 0.6 percent higher, while the Shanghai composite closed about half a percent lower. The Hang Seng climbed more than a third of a percent.

In Europe, the German DAX traded slightly lower while the Stoxx Europe 600 fell 0.36 percent.

Major U.S. Indexes

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 35.89 points, or 0.19 percent, to close at 18,867.93, with Merck leading decliners and Verizon Wireless the biggest riser.

The fell 5.22 points, or 0.24 percent, to end at 2,181.9, with health care leading seven sectors lower and telecommunications the top advancer.

The Nasdaq composite slipped 12.46 points, or 0.23 percent, to close at 5,321.51.

Decliners were a step ahead of advancers at the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 931.7 million and a composite volume of 3.482 billion at the close.

High-frequency trading accounted for 52 percent of November's daily trading volume of about 8.69 billion shares, according to TABB Group. During the peak levels of high-frequency trading in 2009, about 61 percent of 9.8 billion of average daily shares traded were executed by high-frequency traders.

The CBOE Volatility index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded 3.5 percent lower, near 12.9.

Gold futures for December delivery fell $8.20 to settle at $1,208.70 per ounce.

—CNBC's Peter Schacknow and Reuters contributed to this report.