The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed less than 50 points from the psychologically-important 20,000 mark on Wednesday following President-elect Donald Trump’s first news conference in months. The Nasdaq also extended gains to its fifth straight record close.
Major indexes oscillated between small gains and losses during the session while biotech stocks were notable losers after Trump said companies were “getting away with murder” with respect to drug prices. Energy shares were among the day’s biggest gainers, rising alongside a jump in the price of crude oil.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.50% rose 98.75 points, or 0.5%, to close at 19,954.28, while the S&P 500 index ESH7, -0.02% gained 6.42 points, or 0.3%, to end at 2,275.32. The Nasdaq Composite COMP, +0.21% added 11.83 points, or 0.2%, to finish at a record 5,563.65.
“The easy part for the Trump administration has been done. Now words have to be transformed into action and policies. The speed of this, more specifically regulatory relief and tax reform, may dictate the immediate direction of the markets,” said Kent Engelke, chief economic strategist at Capitol Securities Management Inc. “If his proposals [and] policies are thought to be bogging down, prices will suffer.”
In a measure of how uncertainty wasn’t alleviated by the news conference, the CBOE Volatility VIX, -2.00% at one time rose more than 5%, though it remains well below its long-term average. Typically, the so-called “fear index” has an inverse correlation with stocks.
“There’s a lot of indecisiveness in the market. We can’t seem to built on a rally or get any sustained momentum in a correction,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott. “Investors are playing both sides, trying to figure out what earnings will look like, and what the Trump administration will look like in terms of actual policy.”
Markets have advanced since Trump’s election in early November, with key indexes hitting repeated records. That rally has shown signs of stalling of late, with some analysts worried that the gains have gotten overdone.
Investors also watched the confirmation hearings of Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee to head the State Department. Russia and China were major topics of discussion in the hearings.
Joseph Quinlan, head of market and thematic strategy at Bank of America Private Wealth Management, said the coming administration has been more hard-line toward China while sympathetic to Russia.
“The shifting U.S. policy stance towards Russia and China presents asymmetric risks to Corporate America,” he said in a report. “Of the two dance partners, U.S. economic/financial linkages with China are far thicker and critical to U.S. firms relative to shallow U.S.-Russian ties. What’s more, the market potential of China is infinitely more attractive than Russia.”
Read: Trump’s game of chicken with China is a lose-lose situation
Economic docket: Investors will hear from several Fed officials over the next two days, including Chairwoman Janet Yellen, and retail sales data are due Friday.
Stocks to watch: The iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF IBB, -2.99% fell 3% while the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF XBI, +0.09% lost 3.4% and the VanEck Vectors Biotech ETF BBH, -2.71% dropped 2.7%. More broadly, the Health Care Select Sector SPDR ETF XLV, -1.01% fell 1%.
Supervalu Inc. SVU, +1.35% reported sales below forecasts, sending shares down 7.5% in early trading.
Merck & Co. MRK, +2.85% rose 2.9% after the drugmaker said the Food and Drug Administration would grant a priority review for one of its lung-cancer drug treatments.
Ford Motor Co. F, -1.40% announced a special dividend and gave updates on its forecasts late Tuesday. Shares fell 1.4%.
Read: Is this the year for stock pickers? Here are 20 picks from Citi
Other markets: European stocks SXXP, +0.23% ended modestly higher. In Asia,ADOW, +0.59% stocks outside of China broadly rose.
The dollar DXY, -0.30% regained some strength across the board, particularly against the British pound GBPUSD, -0.1474% which weakened after a reports on industrial production and the trade deficit.
Crude-oil prices CLG7, -0.02% rebounded, adding more than 2%, after two straight day of losses, with investors focusing on a report on U.S. supply data due later. Gold prices GCG7, -0.37% extended gains.