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U.S. stocks climb on strength in auto and consumer sectors

Specialist Mario Picone works at his post on

Specialist Mario Picone works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday Jan. 3, 2017, the first trading day of the new year. Credit: AP / Richard Drew

U.S. stocks climbed Wednesday as investors bought shares of companies focused on consumers, including automakers and retailers. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index finished a single point below its all-time high.

ON WALL STREET: At the close, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 60.4 points, about 0.3 percent, at 19,942.2.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 12.9 points, about 0.6 percent, to 2,270.8. The Nasdaq composite climbed 47.9 points, about 0.9 percent, to 5,477.

OIL PRICES: As markets closed, benchmark U.S. crude was up 95 cents at $54.24 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London on the Intercontinental Exchange Europe, Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 98 cents to $56.45 a barrel.

VEHICLE SALES: Automakers reported their December sales on Wednesday. General Motors said its total sales climbed 10 percent from a year ago as Chevy sales increased, and its stock rose $1.666, or 4.7 percent, to $36.81. Ford climbed 57 cents, or 4.5 percent, to $13.16.

Electric carmaker Tesla Motors, which gave its own report late Tuesday, picked up $8.02, or 3.7 percent, to $225.01. Auto supplier Delphi Automotive gained $1.88, or 2.8 percent, to $69.42 and used car retailer CarMax also climbed $2.51, or 3.9 percent, to $67.33. Fiat Chrysler, which rose Tuesday, missed out on the gains and was little changed.

AUTO SALES STRONG, BUT: Demand may be slowing, but U.S. consumers still bought a whole lot of cars and trucks in 2016. U.S. sales of new vehicles — which set a record of 17.47 million in 2015 — could hit a new high in 2016. Consulting firm LMC Automotive and car-buying site each predict sales will squeak past the old record and reach 17.5 million in 2016.

But after six straight years of sales gains — a string not seen since the 1920s — U.S. sales have reached a plateau. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects U.S. sales to drop to 17.1 million vehicles in 2017 as interest rates and vehicle prices rise. More buyers are also opting for longer loans, which means they won’t be returning to dealerships anytime soon.

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