Dow now positive for year as stocks jump
New York — A midday gain for stocks Thursday on the heels of a four-week rally has turned the Dow Jones industrial average positive for the year, wiping out its losses from a terrible start to 2016. Materials and energy companies are rising as the price of gold and silver and oil jump. Drug company stocks continue to tumble, pulling health care companies lower.
Keeping score: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 122 points, or 0.7 percent, to 17,447 as of 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. For the first time all year, the Dow is higher — though it’s only by a tiny amount. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 11 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,038. The Nasdaq composite rose six points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,770. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are still down for the year.
Metals shine: The price of gold jumped $35, or 2.8 percent, to $1,264.90 an ounce and silver climbed 78 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $16.01 an ounce. Silver is trading at its highest prices since October while gold is at its highest price in about a year.
Oil: Benchmark U.S. crude gained $1.48, or 3.8 percent, to $39.95 a barrel in New York. U.S. crude has now risen 2 percent in 2016. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oils, rose $1.11, or 2.8 percent, to $41.45 a barrel in London. Brent crude has risen 11 percent this year. Still, oil prices are far lower they have been for most of the last decade.
On time: Package delivery company FedEx rose after it reported strong holiday-season sales, helped by continued growth in online shopping. FedEx also raised its projections for the year. The stock gained $15.13, or 10.5 percent, to $159.40.
Fed fallout: When the Federal Reserve decided Wednesday to leave interest rates unchanged, and suggested it will go slower in raising rates later this year, the dollar lost strength and commodity prices climbed. Commodities are priced in dollars, so a weaker dollar makes them more affordable in foreign markets and gives demand a boost. Investors also tend to buy gold when the dollar loses strength.
Mining company Newmont Mining added 65 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $28.20. Glass container maker Owens-Illinois rose $1.01, or 6.7 percent, to $15.99. Air Products and Chemicals, which sells gases for industrial, medical and other uses, gained $4.11, or 3 percent, to $140.17.
The quote: Over the last few years the dollar has gotten stronger and stronger compared to other currencies as investors waited for interest rates to rise. Over the same period, metals prices have weakened. Now that the Fed is saying it will raise rates more slowly, the dollar is slipping and metals prices are rising.
“When the dollar strengthens gold tends to sell off and vice versa,” said James Butterfield, head of research and investment strategy at ETF Securities.
He added that investors aren’t sure what monetary policy makers in Europe will do, and that kind of uncertainty usually sends metals prices higher.
Lingering symptoms: Health care stocks continued to slump as Congress scrutinized drug pricing practices. Investors are fearful that it will get harder for drug companies to raise their prices and boost their profits and revenues. Drugmaker Mallinckrodt lost $4.14, or 7.4 percent, to $51.55 and generic drugmaker Mylan gave up $2.70, or 5.8 percent, to $43.70. The Nasdaq biotech index has dropped more than 7 percent this week, and the broader S&P 500 health care index is down almost 4 percent.
Burned: Williams-Sonoma lost $3.75, or 6.3 percent, to $55.71 after the seller of cookware and home furnishings disclosed disappointing fourth-quarter results and gave a disappointing outlook for 2016.
Broken circuit: Electronics manufacturer Jabil Circuit lost $2.01, or 9.2 percent, to $19.95 after it posted weaker-than-expected results in the fourth quarter and its guidance was also beneath expectations.
SeaWorld cruises: SeaWorld Entertainment said it will immediately stop breeding orcas after years of controversy over keeping the whales in captivity. The move will phase the animals out of its theme parks. The stock gained $1, or 5.8 percent, to $18.12.
Not so sweet: Mondelez International fell 66 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $41.06 after Pershing Square, the hedge fund run by investor Bill Ackman, said it sold 20 million shares. Pershing Square remains a major shareholder in Mondelez, which makes products including Oreo cookies, Cadbury chocolates and Trident gum.
Unemployment benefits rise: The Labor Department reported that applications for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week, but they remain at levels consistent with a healthy job market.
Bonds, currencies: Bond prices have also risen, dampening their yields. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.90 percent after it fell to 1.91 percent on Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.1302 from $1.1204. The dollar fell to 111.48 yen from 112.68 yen.
Overseas: German’s DAX gave up 1.2 percent and the CAC-40 in France lost 0.8 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 inched up 0.2 percent. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index closed 0.2 percent lower as the dollar fell. A weaker dollar would be bad news for Japanese exporters. Elsewhere, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index climbed 1.2 percent. Shanghai’s composite index came back from early losses, gaining 1.2 percent. South Korea’s KOSPI added 0.7 percent.