US stocks close modestly higher as S&P 500 and Dow Jones hit new high

Technology companies led US stocks modestly higher today, driving the market to another set of milestones.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index and Dow Jones industrial average finished at new highs. Both indexes also hit record levels on Friday.

Solid gains by health care companies also helped lift the market, outweighing losses among banks and industrial stocks. Energy stocks rose along with the price of crude oil.

Investors had their eye on bitcoin futures, which made their market debut, but traders were mostly looking ahead to the outcome of Wednesday's meeting of Federal Reserve policymakers.

"The market is kind of in a holding pattern, just sort of waiting for the Fed meeting," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading & derivatives at Charles Schwab.

The S&P 500 index rose 8.49 points, or 0.3%, to 2,659.99. The index has risen on a weekly basis over the past three weeks.

The Dow gained 56.87 points, or 0.2%, to 24,386.03, the Nasdaq composite added 35 points, or 0.5%, to 6,875.08, and the Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks slipped 1.88 points, or 0.1%, to 1,519.84.

The Fed is scheduled to issue an interest rate policy update on Wednesday. Economists expect the central bank to lift short-term rates by 0.25%. That would be the third interest rate hike this year.

While inflation has remained low, the central bank has seen a path to gradually raise rates as the economy and labour market have strengthened.

The Labour Department said today that US employers posted slightly fewer job openings in October than the previous month, but the number of people being hired increased.

Last week, another report showed that employers added a net total of 244,000 jobs in October and 228,000 in November. The trend helped keep the unemployment rate at 4.1%.

"The Fed sees enough strength in the overall economy, despite the lack of inflation, to still go ahead and continue to hike rates," Mr Frederick said.

Technology companies accounted for much of the market's gains Monday.

Symantec rose 1.24 dollars, or 4.4%, to 29.22 dollars.

Apple gained 1.9% after the website Apple Insider said the company is delivering new iPhones to customers at a faster pace. Apple also made news after it agreed to acquire the Shazam music-identification service for an undisclosed amount. The stock added 3.30 dollars to 172.67.

Allergan led the gainers in the health care sector, climbing 4.96 dollars, or 3%, to 172.76 dollars.

Drugmaker Bluebird Bio surged 17.9% after it reported results from an early study of a cancer treatment the company is developing with Celgene. Bluebird gained 30.65 dollars to 201.80. Celgene added 1.91 dollars, or 1.8%, to 108 dollars.

Bitcoin futures rose on their first day of trading on a major US exchange. Trading on the contract for the virtual currency began on Sunday. The first futures contract closed at 18,545 dollars, according to data from Cboe Global Markets, ending its initial day of trading with a 20% gain from its opening price.

The futures allow traders to make bets on the future direction of bitcoin. The price of an actual bitcoin has soared since it began the year below 1,000 dollars.

Overstock.com, which accepts bitcoin, surged 9.92 dollars, or 22%, to 55 dollars.

Oil and gas prices rose, boosting energy sector stocks. Chesapeake Energy added 15 cents, or 4.1%, to 3.83 dollars.

Benchmark US crude gained 63 cents, or 1.1%, to settle at 57.99 dollars per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, added 1.29 dollars, or 2%, to close at 64.69 dollars per barrel in London.

Shares in banks and other financial companies declined. Zions Bancorporation shed 99 cents, or 1.9%, to 49.94 dollars.

Several industrial companies also posted losses, including Verisk Analytics. The stock slid 1.84 dollars, or 1.9%, to 94.32 dollars.

In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline picked up 1 cent to 1.73 dollars per gallon, while heating oil gained 2 cents to 1.95 dollars per gallon. Natural gas rose 6 cents, or 2%, to 2.83 dollars per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold slipped 1.50 dollars to settle at 1,246.90 dollars per ounce, while silver fell 4 cents to 15.79 dollars per ounce. Copper added 3 cents to 3.01 dollars per pound.

Bond prices were little changed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note held at 2.38%.


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