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Early gain fades on Wall Street

Stocks closed slightly lower Friday after an early rally faded away. | AP file photo

Stocks closed slightly lower Friday after an early rally faded away. | AP file photo

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Updated: March 21, 2014 3:35PM



NEW YORK — An early surge on the stock market evaporated Friday, as healthcare stocks tugged major indexes down. Biotech companies were especially hard-hit after lawmakers questioned the pricing of a Hepatitis C drug made by Gilead Sciences.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index raced past an all-time high in early trading, then lost steam in the afternoon. It still finished with a solid weekly gain, up 1.4 percent.

It might sound surprising that the stock market is trading near an all-time high with all the uncertainty surrounding China’s slowing growth and simmering tensions between Russia and the West. Last week, those concerns were credited with knocking the S&P 500 index down 1.9 percent, its worst weekly loss in nearly two months.

This week investors seemed to return their focus back to the basics.

“There are always bad things going on in the world, but they don’t all matter to the ultimate direction of markets,” said Douglas Coté, chief market strategist at ING U.S. Investment Management. “The only thing that matters is the following: corporate earnings, manufacturing and the consumer. And they’ve all been solid.”

The S&P 500 slipped 5.61 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 1,866.40. It traded as high as 1,882 earlier in the day, four points above its record high reached March 7.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 28.35 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,302.70. The Nasdaq composite dropped 42.50 points, or 1 percent, to 4,276.79.

Health care stocks fell the most in the S&P 500 index. Gilead lost $3.46, or 5 percent, to $72.07. Biogen Idec fell $28.51, or 8 percent, to $318.53.

Nike fell after warning that a stronger U.S. dollar will dampen its results this quarter. Strong demand for its shoes and apparel ahead of the World Cup in June helped it beat analysts’ earnings expectations in the previous quarter, the company said late Thursday. Nike, one of the 30 stocks in the Dow, lost $4.06, or 5 percent, to $75.21.

Reports on manufacturing and housing sent the stock market higher early in the week. The big stumble came Wednesday, when the Federal Reserve said it could start raising short-term interest rates as soon as next year. Traders drove down prices for gold, government bonds and stocks in anticipation of higher interest rates and borrowing costs.

Those market jitters overshadowed some good news, said Dan Veru, chief investment officer of Palisade Capital Management in Fort Lee, N.J. “If interest rates are going higher it’s because the economy is doing better,” he said, “and that’s going to be a good thing for corporate profits. What’s so bad about that?”

In other trading Friday, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.74 percent. Crude oil rose 56 cents to close at $99.46 a barrel. Gold gained $5.50 to settle at $1,336 an ounce.



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