Stocks Seek Direction, Oil Jumps


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Stock-market indices flipped between modest gains and losses in thin, post-holiday trading, while crude oil prices rallied.

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Today's Markets

As of 2:50 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 27.7 points, or 0.23%, to 12,322, the S&P 500 gained 3.1 points, or 0.25%, to 1,268 and the Nasdaq Composite rose 14 points, or 0.53%, to 2,633.

Trading was quite subdued on the day. Out of the blue chips, chipmaker Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) was the best performer by far. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), the two biggest American banks by assets, were the laggards on the Dow. Indeed, the entire financials sector struggled.

Shares of Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD) plunged 25% after the retailer said it would close between 100 and 120 Kmart and Sears stores amid sliding demand for consumer electronics and home appliances.

The utilities sector was a strong performer on the day, with companies like The Southern Company (NYSE:SO) rallying.

The markets have shifted into rally mode as the end of the year approaches.

Energy futures got a boost after state media in Iran said a senior official in that country threatened to cut off crude oil shipments in the Straight of Hormuz should international sanctions be applied. The strait is a key shipping channel, and such a blockade could potentially have significant political and economic consequences.

The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York jumped $1.66, or 1.7%, to $101.34 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline climbed 0.06% to $2.6889 a gallon.

A significant driver of the markets' strong performance over the past week has been a round of data showing the labor market, housing sector and consumer sentiment are improving, suggesting broader growth could begin strengthen. Wall Street got a round of mixed data on Tuesday.

The S&P/Case-Shiller gauge of home prices in 20 U.S. cities slid 1.2% in October from September on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, a bigger decline than the 0.5% economists forecast. Home prices dipped 3.4% from the same month last year.

The housing market has been slow to recover as housing prices and demand have remained subdued, while supply has remained high.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board’s measure of consumer confidence climbed to 64.5 in December from a revised 55.2 in November. Economists expected a reading of 58.3 for the month. The gauge is now at an 8-month high as consumers feel more comfortable about the labor market and their financial situation.

Confidence in the economy tends to be a key variable in consumers' buying decisions, meaning these data could have an outsized affect on retailers. Separate reports have shown consumer sentiment did indeed improve in December.

U.S. markets were closed on Monday for the Christmas holiday and trading is expected to be thin on Tuesday, traders say.

In the foreign exchange market, the euro rose 0.1% to $1.3074, while the greenback fell 0.16% against six trading partners.

In metals, gold slid $10.50, or 0.65%, to $1,596 a troy ounce. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note yields 2.017% from 2.031% as traders bought the safe-haven asset.

Foreign Markets

European blue were essentially unchanged and the German DAX gained 0.18% to 5,890. In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 fell 0.46% to 8,441.

The London and Hong Kong stock exchanges are closed for holidays.

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