MARKET SNAPSHOT: U.S. Stocks Struggle To Push Higher

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03/20/2017 | 08:48 pm

By Victor Reklaitis and Anora Mahmudova, MarketWatch

Drop in oil prices weighs on energy shares

The main U.S. stock indexes switched between small gains and losses on Monday as investors were reluctant to make big bets without major economic news.

In early trade, the Nasdaq Composite set an intraday all-time high, but was unable to hold the gains by late afternoon.

The S&P 500 index was off by 2 points, or 0.1%, at 2,375, with nearly all of the 11 main sectors trading lower. Utilities and financials sectors were leading the losses, while energy stocks followed oil prices lower.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 14 points, or 0.1%, to 20,928, with nearly half of the blue-chip companies trading in negative territory. Nike Inc.(>> Nike Inc) and Caterpillar Inc.(>> Caterpillar Inc.) were leading the gains, up more than 2% and 1%, respectively while Home Depot Inc.(>> Home Depot Inc) and Visa Inc.(V) were the top decliners.

Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite Index was down by 9 points, or 0.2%, at 5,892, retreating from an intraday high set at 5,915.12.

"At this stage sideways or a move lower on the S&P 500 would make sense and perhaps that what we are seeing after gains in February," said Michael Antonelli, equity sales trader at Robert W. Baird & Co.

Market reaction to comments from Charles Evans, president of Chicago Federal Reserve were muted.

In an interview with Fox Business, Evans said he would support three rate hikes in total this year if economic improvement persists and four increases if inflation accelerates above the central bank's 2% target.

His comments come after the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee on Wednesday raised benchmark interest rates for the first time in 2017.

Some analysts suggested that investors are in a wait-and-see mode amid political uncertainty about new regulations.

"This is what we call a classic 'backing and filling' in the market. Investors may be somewhat clear about the monetary policy but now waiting to see what happens legislatively," said Maris Ogg, president at Tower Bridge Advisors.

Ogg is optimistic about earnings over the next couple of years.

"We have one of the most business-friendly administrations which we expect to spur capital spending by companies, leading to better earnings growth," she said.

Other markets: Oil futures fell on Monday, as some analysts blamed the drop on global growth worries after G-20 officials removed anti-protectionist language from a policy statement.

European equities lost ground, while Asian markets were mixed. Gold futures stepped higher, and a key dollar index edged higher. The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 2.47%.

Economic news: Chicago's Evans in an interview on the Fox Business cable channel said that he expected the U.S. economy grow at a 2.25% pace this year. He also suggested that if the economy continues to grow as expected and inflation flares up, he would support four rate hikes this year.

Stock movers: Energy shares were among top decliners on the S&P 500. Transocean Ltd(>> Transocean LTD) and Chesapeake Energy Corp. were down about 3%.

Shares of Tiffany & Co. (>> Tiffany & Co.) rose 1% after analysts at William Blair upgraded the stock.

Walt Disney Co. (>> Walt Disney Co) shares gained 0.8% after 'Beauty and the Beast' topped the box-office ticket sales over the weekend.

U.S.-listed shares for Deutsche Bank AG(>> Deutsche Bank AG) (>> Deutsche Bank AG) traded 3.6% lower after the German lender issued new shares to raise nearly $9 billion. The bank also indicated that it slashed bonuses paid to staff by 80% last year after suffering its second consecutive full-year loss.

Shares of Caterpillar Inc. (>> Caterpillar Inc.) were up 2.5% after the industrial-equipment maker reported encouraging February retail machine-sales data .

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