NEW YORK >> U.S. stocks finished mostly higher today to wrap up a subdued week, and technology companies did most of the heavy lifting. Investors were also pleased to see that shoppers spent more money in September.
Printer and PC maker HP sent technology companies higher after releasing a strong profit forecast for next year. Big names like Intel and Facebook also rose. Companies in retail, travel and entertainment moved up after the Commerce Department’s report on retail spending. Health insurers and hospital operators skidded after President Donald Trump said he will stop government payments to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act.
Bank of America climbed while Wells Fargo faded as banks continued to report their third-quarter results. But in the early going, investors don’t seem as excited about this round of company earnings compared to earlier in the year. Sean Lynch, the co-head of global equity strategy for Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said that unless this batch of corporate reports is surprisingly good, stocks won’t rise much further.
“If we come in at expectations or slightly above, I think markets maintain these gains,” he said. Lynch said earnings for Standard & Poor’s 500 companies should rise five or six percent for the quarter. If that doesn’t happen, he said the S&P 500 could decline four or five percent by the end of the year. That’s not a huge loss, but stocks haven’t fallen that much since early 2016.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 2.24 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,553.17. The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 30.71 points, or 0.1 percent, to 22,871.72. The Nasdaq composite gained 14.29 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at a record high of 6,605.80. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks slid 2.51 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,502.66.
The Commerce Department said retail sales grew 1.6 percent in September after a small decline in August. Much of the gain came from car and gasoline sales: sales of cars jumped as people living in the Southeast and Gulf Coast replaced vehicles that were destroyed by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which also caused temporary spikes in gas prices. But other types of spending grew by a solid amount as well.
HP forecast a larger annual profit than analysts expected, and also said it will return at least 50 percent of its free cash flow to shareholders by paying dividends or buying back stock. HP stock gained $1.31, or 6.4 percent, to $21.71.
The White House said late Thursday that it is stopping subsidy payments to insurers under the 2010 health care law. Those payments help reduce copays and deductibles for people with lower incomes. The move could increase losses for insurers and reduce payments to hospitals and other health care facilities. Adding to the uncertainty, the sign-up period for subsidized private insurance starts Nov. 1.
Medicaid program administrator Centene lost $3.12, or 3.2 percent, to $90.56 and insurer Anthem gave up $5.81, or 3.1 percent, to $184.38. Hospital operator Tenet dropped 71 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $13.15 and ambulatory surgery center operator Envision Healthcare fell 91 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $40.74.
Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note declined to 2.27 percent from 2.32 percent.
Materials companies rose with metals prices. Gold gained $8.10 to $1,304.60 an ounce. Silver climbed 15 cents to $17.41 an ounce. Copper rose 1 cent to $3.13 a pound.
Steelmakers climbed after Bloomberg News reported that China imported a record amount of iron ore in September and exported less steel. That sent prices higher. U.S. Steel climbed $1.80, or 7 percent, to $27.36 and AK Steel added 31 cents, or 5.6 percent, to $5.80.
Utility PG&E continued to tumble as investors wondered if the company will face penalties connected to the California wildfires. Officials said this week they are investigating the possibility that downed power lines or other faulty equipment touched off the fires, which have killed 31 people and destroyed at least 3,500 homes since Sunday.
PG&E stock dropped 6.7 percent Thursday and fell another $6.78, or 10.5 percent, to $57.72 today. Citi Investment Research analyst Praful Mehta said the company lost $2.2 billion in value Thursday alone, and even if PG&E were found responsible and grossly negligent for the fires, he says it probably wouldn’t be fined much more than that.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil picked up 85 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $51.45 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 92 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $57.17 a barrel in London.
Wholesale gasoline rose 4 cents to $1.62 a gallon. Heating oil added 3 cents to $1.80 a gallon. Natural gas edged up 1 cent to $3 per 1,000 cubic feet.
The dollar fell to 111.89 yen from 112.22 yen. The euro dipped to $1.1817 from $1.1836.
The DAX in Germany rose 0.1 percent while the FTSE 100 index in Britain lost 0.3 percent. The French CAC 40 fell 0.2 percent. Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 1 while South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.1 percent. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng added 0.1 percent.