Stocks end strong week on flat note

AP News
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Posted: Feb 26, 2016 6:00 PM
Stocks end strong week on flat note

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks ended a strong week on a flat note as lower oil prices and utility stocks offset encouraging economic news.

Still, the market ended Friday with a second straight weekly gain.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 57.32 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,639.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 3.65 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,948.05 and the Nasdaq composite added 8.27 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,590.47.

All three indexes finished the week up by 1.5 percent or more. Oil, despite Friday's decline, was up 3.6 percent for the week.

On Friday the market was buoyed early by a strong rally in overseas stocks triggered by word from China that it would not devalue its currency to make its imports more competitive.

Also, the Commerce Department said U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic health, grew at an annual rate of 1 percent in the fourth quarter, an improvement from the first estimate of 0.7 percent. Economists were expecting a reading of 0.4 percent growth.

"We are finally seeing some stabilization in the economic data — durable goods numbers, retail sales, and this second reading on GDP — that will hopefully end this debate on whether the U.S. economy is heading toward recession," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist with Prudential Financial.

Voya Market Strategists Douglas Cote and Karyn Cavanaugh, in a note to investors, said the GDP data could increase the likelihood of an interest rate increase at the Federal Reserve's meeting in March.

But the stronger economic news kicked interest rates up sharply. That in turn hit relatively safe investments like government bonds and stocks that are attractive for their dividends, like utilities and consumer staples, hard.

Coca-Cola was the biggest decliner in the Dow, slipping 2.3 percent, followed by Wal-Mart and IBM. All three stocks have a dividend yield of 3 percent or more.

The Dow Jones utility index, a basket of 15 utility companies, fell nearly 3 percent, and the sector was the biggest loser in the S&P 500. Utility stocks tend to do better at times of low interest rates or economic uncertainty because their business is relatively stable and they pay a high dividend.

Government bond prices fell, pushing the yield on the 10-year Treasury note up to 1.76 percent from 1.72 percent the day before. Gold prices also fell, closing down $18.40 to $1,220.40 an ounce.

Oil was unable to hold gains it had early in the day, and closed down 29 cents, or 1 percent, to $32.78 a barrel. Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell 19 cents to close at $35.10. In other energy commodities, heating oil fell 1.9 cents to $1.051 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline futures fell 3.9 cents to $1.017 a gallon and natural gas rose 0.6 cents to $1.791 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In other metals, silver fell 49 cents to $14.71 an ounce and high-grade copper rose 5 cents to $2.125 a pound.