Market Wrap: Dow Breaks 18,000; S&P Sets Record, Too

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Financial Markets Wall Street
Seth Wenig/AP

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday, with the Dow (^DJI) closing above 18,000 for the first time ever and the S&P 500 (^GPSC) ending at a record after an unexpectedly strong report on economic growth.

The Nasdaq (^IXIC) ended modestly lower, pressured by the biggest selloff in biotech names in many months, while trading was light ahead of the Christmas holiday. Markets will close early on Wednesday and will be closed all of Thursday. Both the Dow and S&P 500 hit intraday records in their fifth-straight day of gains. The Dow rose as high as 18,069.22 and is up about 175 percent from a 12-year closing low hit on March 9, 2009. The S&P's record close was its 51st such record this year.

The final estimate for third-quarter U.S. economic growth was revised up to a 5 percent annual pace, its quickest in 11 years and easily topping expectations for growth of 4.3 percent.

"Everyone is surprised, and I'm definitely pleased," said Wayne Kaufman, chief market analyst at Phoenix Financial Services in New York. "But the question is, how can inflation be so low when GDP is so high? Either this is just a one-off and GDP will fall back dramatically, or we'll see a pickup in inflation, which could put more pressure on the Fed."

Massive Drop for Biotech

The report spurred a broad rally, with nine of the ten primary S&P 500 sectors higher on the day. The only group to fall was health care, down 2.2 percent alongside a massive drop in biotech stocks.

The Nasdaq biotech index fell 4.6 percent, its biggest one-day decline since April 10. Components of the index made up the top six percentage decliners on the S&P; Celgene (CELG) fell 6.5 percent to $106.12 while Biogen (BIIB) lost 4.7 percent to $335.76. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN) fell 4.6 percent to $394.05.

Gilead Pharmaceuticals (GILD) fell 3.7 percent to $89.45, extending Monday's drop of 14 percent, which came after Express Scripts (ESRX) said it would abandon covering Gilead's hepatitis C treatment in favor of a cheaper option.

Time Will Tell

"This is just a knee-jerk reaction, based on a bear thesis that Express Scripts will start to dictate prices," said Kaufman. "I don't see how this is any different than any other company in another sector getting more competition. Soon people will go through the stocks one-by-one to see which got oversold."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 64.67 points, or 0.36 percent, to 18,024.11, the S&P 500 gained 3.64 points, or 0.18 percent, to 2,082.18 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 16.00 points, or 0.33 percent, to 4,765.42. Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,990 to 1,090, for a 1.83-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,399 issues rose and 1,353 fell for a 1.03-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 124 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 182 new highs and 53 new lows. About 5.41 billion shares traded on all U.S. platforms, according to BATS exchange data, compared with the month-to-date average of 7.78 billion.

What to watch on Wednesday:

  • The government releases jobless claims, at 8:30 a.m.
  • U.S. and European markets close early for Christmas Eve.

11 Crucial End-of-Year Financial Tips
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Market Wrap: Dow Breaks 18,000; S&P Sets Record, Too
If you don't already have one, now's the time to establish a traditional individual retirement account or a Roth IRA, and if you're self-employed, a Solo 401K or SEP-IRA. Don't worry if you don't have enough money to fully fund the account. As long as you establish the account by the end of the calendar year, you'll be able to retroactively contribute to it through April 15 of next year, and those funds can still count toward your 2014 taxes.
For 2014, you're allowed to contribute up to $17,500 to your 401(k). (If you're 50 and over, that limit increases to $23,000.) This is the maximum you're able to save per year and still defer paying income tax on that money.

Since 401(k) contributions must be made through payroll deductions, talk to your company's payroll department about adjusting your December contribution or adding a lump-sum amount from your holiday bonus when you receive it. Also, chat with your human resource department to see if it will let you retroactively earmark contributions made prior to April 15, 2015 for the 2014 tax year.
If you're age 70½ or older, you're required to take a certain amount from your 401(k) and traditional IRA each calendar year. If you don't, you could be facing sizable penalty fees from the IRS (as in 50 percent of the amount you should have taken out). To find out how much you should take out by the end of the year, talk to your financial adviser or see this calculator.
You may qualify for a state income tax deduction by contributing to your children's 529 college savings plan.While every state's 529 tax deduction rules and contribution limits vary, most states will accept contributions until all account balances for the same beneficiary reach $235,000 to $412,000. Check with your state to discover your specific limits.
Depending on your financial situation, converting some of the funds from your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA could be a smart strategy. You're able to withdraw the funds from a Roth IRA tax-free, and Roth IRAs are excluded from required minimum distribution rules. Furthermore, if you're ineligible to contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA due to income limitations, you can still contribute to a "nondeductible" traditional IRA and then process what's known as a "backdoor" Roth conversion.
When you sell stocks for a gain, you face capital gains taxes. But you can counterbalance these gains by selling some of your "losing" stocks and writing off the losses. Talk with your accountant about whether this strategy would work for you; if it will, you need to harvest your losses before the year closes out.
Do you have a flexible spending account, or FSA, at work? Check the detail of your company's policy; many are "use it or lose it," meaning if you don't use the full amount in your FSA by year's end, that money will not roll over.

New federal laws permit employers to let their workers roll over a maximum of $500, but it's the employers choice whether or not to allow this rollover. Also, some employers give their workers a grace period until March of the following year to use the prior year funds, while other employers require that the funds are used by Dec 31. Check with your HR department to learn your employers' rules.

Remember that FSA funds can be used for a lot more than just prescriptions and co-pays. If you have money you need to spend before it's gone, you may also be able to use it for things like dental work, glasses or contact lenses, and even some qualified over-the-counter medicine and supplies.
Secure some additional tax deductions for 2014 by donating to a charitable cause. As long as you itemize your donations, you can claim everything from cash donations to goods to used vehicle donations. You can even give some of your stock to charity, thus avoiding capital gains tax.

Just be sure to get a signed and dated receipt from the charity, noting the amount of your contribution -- especially if you're donating goods instead of cash. As an added precaution, take photographs of any high-value donations (over $250).
You may qualify for another tax credit by making energy-efficient home improvements like windows, insulation and roofing. You'll also save more in the long run on your home's heating and cooling costs. To see which improvements qualify for a tax credit, go to the federal government's energy savings website, which lists comprehensive details that are broken down state-by-state.
If you need to enroll for coverage on the healthcare exchanges, you have until Dec. 15, 2014 to sign up for coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2015. If you're already enrolled in a marketplace plan, you may be able to change your coverage if you've had a qualifying life event, such as a marriage or a move to another state.
You can give up to $14,000 to individuals per year without needing to file a gift tax return. If you're married, you and your spouse can each bequeath gifts of $14,000 to an individual without triggering a taxable event. If you decide to give a major financial gift to your children, talk to your kids first about strong money-management skills. Here's a free guide to help to talk to your kids about money.

Giving a little bit each year can also help reduce your overall estate tax burden (although the estate tax exemption is $5.34 million in 2014, which means few taxpayers will need to worry about this).

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