Stocks close little changed amid weakness in health, banks

Stocks ended little changed Friday as gains in utilities and industrials stocks countered declines in financial and health care stocks.

The Dow lost 19 points, the S&P 500 slid 0.13 percent, and the Nasdaq closed flat.

“I think we’re getting in and out of a very hectic week in terms of catalysts and into one that’s less catalyst-filled,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.

Stocks briefly extended gains in afternoon trade before pulling off those highs as the close approached. The Nasdaq composite hit an all-time intraday high, helped by gains in shares of Microsoft, Adobe and Starbucks.

The iShares Nasdaq biotechnology ETF (IBB) traded about 1 percent lower. Amgen shares fell more than 6 percent after disappointing results from its latest cholesterol-lowering drug.

“It’s expiration so there’s a lot of noise related to that,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group.

The third Friday of every March, June, September, and December is quadruple “witching,” the expiration of three related classes of options and futures contracts, along with individual stock futures options. Friday is also St. Patrick’s Day.

U.S. crude oil futures settled up 3 cents, or 0.06 percent, at $48.78 a barrel. Oil was little changed after Baker Hughes said the weekly U.S. rig count rose by 14 oil rigs to a total of 631.

For markets, “what’s most relevant is the trajectory and the momentum of global economic growth, which … looks pretty good,” said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Asset Management.

The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) is up 4 percent for the week so far, tracking for its best since July 2016.

As of Thursday’s close, the major U.S. averages were on track for to end the week slightly higher. The bulk of those gains came Wednesday after the Fed raised rates, as expected, but took a more dovish tone than expected.

“The interesting thing is a month ago nobody expected them to raise in March,” Boockvar said. “The market’s still in that ‘everything is good mode.'”

On the data front, industrial production came in unchanged for February. Capacity utilization edged 0.1 percent lower to 75.4 percent.

The University of Michigan preliminary read on consumer sentiment for March was 97.6.

Treasury yields traded slightly lower, with the 2-year yield around 1.31 percent and the 10-year yield around 2.50 percent. The U.S. dollar index traded a touch lower, with the euro around $1.075 and the yen near 112.7.

Overseas, the STOXX Europe 600 closed 0.16 percent higher. The Shanghai composite ended nearly 1 percent lower, while the Nikkei 225 fell 0.35 percent.

Gold futures for April delivery settled up $3.10 at $1,230.20 an ounce.

Evelyn Cheng

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