US stock indexes turn mixed, natural gas prices surge

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FILE – This Jan. 31, 2020, file photo shows a Wall Street sign in front of the New York Stock Exchange. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

U.S. stock indexes are mixed in afternoon trading Tuesday as losses in health care and technology companies keep gains in energy and other sectors of the market in check.

The S&P 500 index was up less than 0.1% as of 2:05 p.m. Eastern. Energy companies that stand to benefit from record electricity prices due to the frigid cold impacting much of the country surged. Marathon Oil and Apache Corp. were among the biggest gainers.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 81 points, or 0.3%, to 31,541 and the Nasdaq Composite index was down 0.3%. All markets closed at record highs on Friday. U.S. markets were closed Monday for a holiday.

Bond yields rose sharply. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.28% from 1.20% late Friday, a big move that also marks its highest level in a year. Bank stocks made broad gains on the higher yields, which allow them to charge more lucrative interest rates on loans. Bank of America rose 3.3% and JPMorgan Chase rose 2.7%.

Energy prices rose sharply, as record demand for heating across much of the frigid Midwest and Texas pushed electricity prices higher. The price of natural gas, which is the country’s primary way to produce quick “on-demand” electricity when needed, was up 7.8% to its highest level since November, when hurricane season impacted some natural gas production along the Gulf Coast.

Heating oil prices were up 2.5%, much less than natural gas, since it’s primarily used in the Northeast in older boilers to heat homes. The Northeast hasn’t seen unreasonable temperatures for this time of the year.

Cruise line operators surged for some of the biggest gains in the S&P 500. Royal Caribbean jumped 10.1% and Carnival climbed 8.9%.

Optimism that Washington will come through on trillions of dollars of more aid for the economy and encouraging company earnings reports have helped stocks grind higher this month, along with hopes that the coronavirus vaccine rollout will set the stage for stronger economic growth in the second half of this year.

With the second impeachment trial over, investors believe Congress can now make progress toward passing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan. The package would include one-time payments to Americans plus additional assistance to industries, states and jurisdictions impacted by the pandemic. Democrats in Congress have elected to use a Senate process known as reconciliation, which does not require 60 votes in the Senate to pass.

Traders in cryptocurrencies pushed up the price of Bitcoin above $50,000 for the first time Tuesday. It was up 0.2% to $48,592 in afternoon trading, according to the tracking site CoinDesk.

Much of Asia remains closed in observance of the Lunar New Year and European markets were mostly lower Tuesday.

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