Belfast Telegraph

Stocks close higher, boosted by healthcare companies

Stocks closed slightly higher on Tuesday, boosted by healthcare companies like UnitedHealth Group, which helped outweigh steep declines in energy companies.

Tiffany jumped after it reported better quarterly results than analysts expected.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 23.70 points, or 0.1%, to 19,121.60. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 2.94 points, or 0.1%, to 2,204.66 and the Nasdaq composite rose 11.11 points, or 0.2%, to 5,379.92.

Stocks started the day slightly lower but posted slight gains by late morning and stayed higher throughout the afternoon.

Healthcare stocks were a primary driver of the market's upward turn. UnitedHealth, the largest US health insurer, backed its forecast for this year and said it expects its earnings to grow in 2017.

That is because of stable medical costs, less exposure to Affordable Care Act healthcare exchanges, and growth for Optum, a business that manages pharmacy benefits, runs clinics and doctors' offices and provides technology services.

The Dow component closed up 5.48 dollars, or 3.6%, to 157.59 dollars.

Other healthcare stocks also rallied. Alexion Pharmaceuticals rose 6.21 dollars, or 5%, to 125.59 dollars, drugmaker AbbVie rose 2.13 dollars, or 3.6%, to 61.59 dollars. Other insurance companies also posted gains. Aetna rose 3.64 dollars, or 2.8%, to 132.03 dollars. Cigna, Humana and Anthem all closed up more than 1%.

Healthcare stocks also rose following the announcement of President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Georgia Congressman Tom Price, who is an adamant opponent of the Affordable Care Act and is likely to head up the Trump administration's rollback of the law.

After taking a pause on Monday, stocks remain in rally mode since the election. However the gains have slowed down in the last week.

"We're seeing a lot of consolidation after the market's big run," said Karen Hiatt, a senior portfolio manager at Allianz Global Investors.

In energy, oil prices fell sharply after it seemed like a deal to reduce oil production among Opec nations was starting to fall apart ahead of their meeting on Wednesday. Saudi Arabia's representatives have sounded sceptical while Iran is hesitant to limit its own output as it ramps up production following years of international sanctions.

Benchmark US crude fell 1.85 dollars, or 3.9%, to close at 45.23 dollars a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, tumbled 1.86 dollars, or 3.9%, to close at 46.38 dollars a barrel in London.

Energy stocks followed oil prices lower, with oil giants Exxon Mobil and Chevron falling roughly 1% each. The energy component of the S&P 500 fell 1.2% on Tuesday.

Luxury jeweller Tiffany traded higher after the company reported stronger sales in Asia, which countered weaker results from the US and Europe. Its stock gained 2.46 dollars, or 3.1%, to 80.60 dollars.


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