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Banks, travel stocks rise as Dow inches close to 20,000

Posted December 20, 2016

— Big gains for banks and companies focused on travel helped propel U.S. stock indexes to record levels on Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial average moved closer than ever to 20,000, but the symbolic threshold remained just out of reach.

Banks once again led the way Tuesday as bond yields and interest rates bounced higher. Strong earnings from cruise line operator Carnival and gains for travel website TripAdvisor led consumer companies higher. Household goods makers fell after Cheerios maker General Mills cut its sales projections for the year, and energy companies fell for the second day in a row. That hadn't happened three weeks. The Dow came within 13 points of the 20,000 mark around 10 a.m. Trading remained light as the Christmas holiday approached.

Stocks have soared since the presidential election, and the Dow has risen almost 1,000 points in under a month.

"The market never goes straight up, but it has done that in the last six weeks," said Gerald Townsend, president of Townsend Asset Management in Raleigh, who credits President-elect Donald Trump's promise to be more business-friendly for fueling the boom.

Some investors think the surge means stocks won't move much in 2017.

"We're at fair value," said Scott Wren, a senior global equity strategist at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute. "This is not going to be a big return year for the stock market."

Will we have a bit of a pull back? Probably," Townsend said. "But that does not mean disaster. The market is always going up and down, but hopefully moving up."

The best advice for investors is caution, he said.

"Even when you have concerns, the best thing you can do is sit there," he said. "You are more likely to make a wrong decision when you make an emotional decision in this business."

The Dow gained 91.56 points, or 0.4 percent, to a record close at 19,974.62. The Standard & Poor's 500 index picked up 8.23 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,270.76. The Nasdaq composite also finished at a record as it added 26.50 points, or 0.5 percent, to 5,483.94. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks jumped 12.27 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,383.96.

Bond prices reversed course and fell after climbing higher Monday. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.56 percent from 2.54 percent. Bond yields have risen sharply of late, and that's good for banks because higher bond yields are linked to higher interest rates, which let them make more money from lending. Regions Financial rose 30 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $14.58 and Citigroup gained $1.14, or 1.9 percent, to $60.80.

Townsend said many people who were waiting to refinance loans might be kicking themselves as interest rates inch up for not doing it earlier.

Cruise line operator Carnival reported profit and sales that were stronger than expected. The company said bookings for trips in 2017 are stronger than they were at this time last year. It said both ticket sales and prices are up. Carnival stock rose $1.17, or 2.3 percent, to $52.49 and competitor Royal Caribbean gained $2.85, or 3.4 percent, to $85.40.

Travel website operator TripAdvisor jumped $2.34, or 5 percent, to $48.79 after it said it will start adding some Expedia brands to its instant hotel booking platform.

Other consumer companies also gained ground. Used car dealership Carmax jumped $3.80, or 6.1 percent, to $66.16 after a strong earnings report. Consumer-focused companies have outperformed the market since the November election as investors expect them to benefit from a possible pickup in economic growth. But the sector has lagged the market in 2016 after a large gain a year ago.

Cheerios and Pillsbury roll maker General Mills cut its sales outlook for the year. The Minnesota company and many of its competitors have struggled as more Americans stay away from processed foods. Its stock lost $1.61, or 2.6 percent, to $61.45. Other household goods makers like Tyson Foods and Kraft Heinz also traded lower. Beer and wine maker Constellation Brands slid $6.32, or 4 percent, to $150.45 after it completed the sale of its Canadian wine business.

Retailer Fred's soared after it agreed to buy 865 Rite Aid pharmacies for $950 million. That's a huge expansion for Fred's, which had 648 total stores at the end of October. Only about half of them had pharmacies. Its stock surged $9.04, or 81.1 percent, to $20.19.

The sale may also clear the way for Walgreens Boots Alliance, the largest U.S. drugstore operator, to buy Rite Aid. That $9.4 billion deal was announced more than a year ago. Rite Aid climbed 44 cents, or 5.4 percent, to $8.61 and Walgreens picked up 22 cents to $86.28. If the two sales close, Fred's will become the third-largest drugstore chain in the U.S.

Industrial gas company Praxair traded lower after it said it will combine with Germany's Linde AG in an all-stock deal. The combined company will be worth some $65 billion, the firms said. Linde and Praxair began talking about a possible deal in August, but a few weeks later Linde said they'd failed to agree on details. Praxair slid $4.61, or 3.7 percent, to $118.39.

Benchmark U.S. crude gained 11 cents to $52.23 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, jumped 43 cents to $55.35 a barrel in London.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline added 3 cents to $1.59 a gallon. Heating oil stayed at $1.67 a gallon. Natural gas dropped 13 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $3.26 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The dollar, which has been trading at 14-year highs, continued to gain strength. It climbed to 118.04 yen from 117.24 yen. The euro fell to $1.0377 from $1.0404.

Gold slid $9.10 to $1,133.60 an ounce. Silver rose 3 cents to $1.12 an ounce. Copper held steady at $2.50 a pound.

The CAC-40 in France rose 0.6 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 finished up 0.4 percent and the German DAX added 0.3 percent. Japanese stocks reached another fresh high for the year after the Bank of Japan left its current monetary policy unchanged. It said the "moderate recovery" of the world's third-largest economy was on track. The Nikkei 225 index advanced 0.5 percent, and South Korea's Kospi added 0.2 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.5 percent.

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