US Markets

Stocks close mixed ahead of key health-care vote; tech leads

Stocks open with modest declines after 2017's biggest drop

U.S. equities closed mixed on Wednesday as Wall Street eagerly awaited a vote on the House's health care proposal and monitored oil prices.

"We had a pretty extensive sell-off yesterday, so it's normal to see an attempt to stabilize," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank. "We'll see if that's successful or not."

The Dow Jones industrial average fell about 5 points, with Nike and Goldman Sachs contributing the most losses. Nike's stock declined 7 percent on the back of mixed quarterly results.

The S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent, with information technology leading advancers. The Nasdaq composite outperformed, rising 0.5 percent.

"It's a little tame today. Yesterday showed confidence in the Trump agenda wavering a bit," said Craig Sterling, head of U.S. equity research at Pioneer Investments. "It seems like we hit a low point in sentiment, which is what has driven us higher lately."

A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images

Stocks suffered their worst day of the year Tuesday — in part — because of fears that a prolonged battle in Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare could delay tax reform, deregulation and government spending.

"This was a well-telegraphed pullback and we'll see how far down we go," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. "You had analyst after analyst saying we were due for one."

Expectations for such policies had been a boon for the market's postelection rally.

"US equities have been priced for perfection since the start of 2017 and [Tuesday] was a rude reminder that the legislative process is imperfect on even its best days," said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at Convergex Group, in a note.

The House is expected to vote on the Republican health care bill on Thursday, but Obamacare's replacement has seen pressure not just from Democrats, but from some conservative GOP members as well.

The Trump rally comes down to one key phrase

On Tuesday afternoon, the Freedom Caucus threatened to formally oppose the bill if the language in it did not change dramatically. The caucus' chairman, Mark Meadows, said after a White House meeting Wednesday there are still not enough votes to pass the bill.

"While not the primary culprit for Tuesday's selloff, tomorrow's vote on Obamacare's replacement will play a significant role for whether this new-found skittishness will persist," said Jeremy Klein, chief market strategist at FBN Securities.

Also on investors' minds were oil prices, which continued falling after of the Energy Information Administration said U.S. inventories rose by 5 million barrels last week. U.S. crude futures for May delivery fell 0.41 percent to settle at $48.04 per barrel and hit its lowest level since November.

"The bias towards oil is turning increasingly bearish and the fading optimism over the effectiveness of OPEC's supply cut deal has enticed bears to install repeated rounds of selling," said Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at FXTM.

"WTI crude may be in store for further punishment moving forward with production in the United States rising consistently and the inflated inventories simply counteracting the efforts of OPEC to stabilize the oil markets," he said.

In corporate news, shares of Sears tumbled more than 10 percent after an SEC filing raised questions about the company's future. "Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the company's ability to continue as a going concern," Sears said in the filing.

Retail stocks have been under pressure recently, with SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT) falling more than 3 percent for the week.

Major U.S. Indexes

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 6.71 points, or 0.03 percent, to close at 20,661.30, with Nike leading decliners and Microsoft the top advancer.

The rose 4 points, or 0.19 percent, to end at 2,348.45, with information technology leading seven sectors higher and telecommunications lagging.

The Nasdaq composite advanced 27.82 points, or 0.48 percent, to end at 5,821.64.

About five stocks advanced for every four decliners at the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 898.87 million and a composite volume of 3.567 billion at the close.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near 12.7.

The dollar fell 0.1 percent against a basket of currencies, with the euro near $1.079 and the yen around 111.11. U.S. Treasurys kept climbing higher, with the benchmark 10-year note yield hitting its lowest level since late February.

On tap this week:


Earnings: Conagra, Scholastic, KB Home, Accenture, GameStop, Shoe Carnival, Micron

8:30 a.m. Initial claims

8:45 a.m. Fed chair Janet Yellen makes opening remarks at Strong Foundations Conference

10:00 a.m. New home sales

12:30 p.m. Minnepolis Fed President Neel Kashkari at Strong Foundations Conference

7:00 p.m. Dallas Fed President Rob Kaplan


Earnings: Finish Line

8:30 a.m. Durable goods

8:45 a.m. Chicago Fed's Evans

9:05 a.m. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard

9:45 a.m. Manufacturing PMI

10:00 a.m. New York Fed President William Dudley