U.S. Stocks Rise on Higher Real Estate, Utility Shares

By Christopher Whittall and Riva GoldFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Gains in real estate and utilities shares pushed U.S. stocks slightly higher Wednesday as investors awaited clues to coming central-bank policy decisions.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged up 19 points, or less than 0.1%, to 20957. The S&P 500 gained less than 0.1% and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.2%.

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Real-estate stocks in the S&P 500 rose 0.5%, while shares of utilities gained 0.4%. Those sectors are often considered bondlike, because they typically pay relatively high dividends and investors tend to buy them when they are nervous about other parts of the market.

Shares of basic materials producers in the S&P 500 rose 0.6%. Dow component DuPont gained 1.2%.

U.S. stocks have climbed in recent sessions as corporate earnings growth helped outweigh concerns over the ability of the Trump administration to push through its policy agenda, including tax cuts.

Many investors are now focusing on central bank policy ahead of pivotal meetings next month for the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. Investors will parse minutes from the Fed's May meeting, set for release later Wednesday, for any clues on future rate increases as well as plans to start reducing its $4.5 trillion balance sheet.

"The Fed is key," said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. Mr. Stovall thinks it is highly likely the Fed will raise interest rates at its June 13-14 meeting, but that shouldn't be "any kind of deterrent at all to the advance in equity prices."

The Federal Reserve's stimulus policies have helped buoy stocks and bond markets in recent years. But many investors view rate increases as a vote of confidence in the U.S. economy that shouldn't derail financial markets, particularly if the Fed continues to move at a gradual pace. Higher interest rates also tend to boost the profitability of certain companies such as banks.

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Patrick Harker said Tuesday that he views it as appropriate to raise interest rates two more times in 2017.

The WSJ Dollar Index, which measures the buck against a basket of 16 other currencies, was down less than 0.1%. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was little changed at 2.283%, according to Tradeweb, from 2.285% Tuesday. Yields fall as prices rise. Treasury yields and the dollar are sensitive to Federal Reserve policy, with both tending to gain when expectations of rate increases grow.

The Stoxx Europe 600 rose less than 0.1%, with gains in travel and leisure shares largely offsetting declines in the auto sector. Shares of Daimler declined 1.6% after German authorities turned up the heat in an investigation into alleged diesel-emissions fraud.

In Asia, Chinese stocks pared initial losses to end higher after Moody's Investors Service lowered the country's credit rating for the first time since 1989. The Shanghai Composite Index notched a gain of less than 0.1%.

"I don't think [the downgrade] came as a surprise to people invested in China," said Hao Hong, head of research at BoCom International in Hong Kong.

Most other markets in the region ended higher. A recent rebound in the dollar against the yen helped send Japan's Nikkei Stock Average up 0.7%, while Australian stocks rose 0.2%.

In commodities, U.S. crude oil prices slipped 0.6% to $51.18 a barrel ahead of Thursday's closely watched meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, where major producers are expected to extend ongoing production cuts.

Aaron Kuriloff contributed to this article.

Write to Christopher Whittall at christopher.whittall@wsj.com and Riva Gold at riva.gold@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 24, 2017 12:45 ET (16:45 GMT)