NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks closed flat in a short session on Wednesday as investors found few reasons to push major indexes to their sixth straight day of gains despite strength in biotechs and bullish labor market data.
While both the S&P 500 (^GPSC) and Dow (^DJI) touched intraday records, and the Dow closed at a slight record, the day's moves were slight and volume was light with many market participants already out for the Christmas holiday.
In a session that ended three hours early, about 2.5 billion shares traded on all U.S. platforms, according to BATS exchange data, well below the month-to-date average of 7.66 billion. Markets will reopen Friday.
Equities have been on a hot streak of late, with the Dow closing above 18,000 for the first time ever on Tuesday. The S&P 500 rose 5.5 percent over the past six sessions and has notched 51 closes this year, the most since 1995 and the fourth best in history.
Recovery in Biotech
Those gains have come on central bank assurances and improving economic data, a trend that continued with jobless claims on Wednesday. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 280,000, their fourth straight week of declines, and below the forecast of 290,000.
"Equities are heading towards the year-end finale in a good position," said Terry Sandven, senior equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis. "Fundamental and macro factors are supportive of higher equity prices, and clearly today if you look at the claims data which was generally in line with expectations, it still points toward an improving labor market."
Biotechs were the big gainers of the day, with the Nasdaq Biotech index up 1.6 percent in a partial rebound from the drop of nearly 7 percent over the previous two sessions. Celgene (CELG) rose 3.3 percent to $109.60 while Gilead Sciences (GILD) added 2 percent to $91.29.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 6.1 points, or 0.03 percent, to 18,030.27, the S&P 500 lost 0.29 points, or 0.01 percent, to 2,081.88 and the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) added 8.05 points, or 0.17 percent, to 4,773.47.
Both the Dow and S&P closed out their sixth straight daily advance, the longest streak for the benchmark S&P since June.
Energy Sector Is Weak
Energy shares continued their recent weakness as crude oil lost 3.5 percent to $55.15 per barrel and hovered near its lowest level since 2009. The S&P energy index fell 0.8 percent; Exxon Mobil (XOM) lost 0.9 percent to $93.78 while ConocoPhillips (COP) slid 1.3 percent to $70.13.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,542 to 1,453, for a 1.06-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq , 1,550 issues rose and 1,090 fell for a 1.42-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 78 new 52-week highs and five new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 96 new highs and 24 new lows.
What to Watch on Thursday:
Markets are closed.
10 Simple Strategies to Slash Your Winter Energy Bills
Market Wrap: 6th Straight Day of Gains
Turn down the thermostat. Who doesn't know that? Throw on a sweater, dress in layers and keep your head and feet warm to make you even more comfortable. In fact, you'll sleep better if those popsicle toes are kept toasty, according to recent sleep research. Try a tip from the Brits and use a hot water bottle or heating pad to warm the bed down by the foot before you retire. Electric blankets are another way to keep warm.
Most utility companies offer free or low-cost energy audits. As my utility put it when it scheduled mine, "It's free. You paid for it." Most are subsidized by a monthly charge on all customers' bills. I came away with a dozen compact fluorescent bulbs, a low-flow shower head, faucet aerators, a surge protector strip and some practical suggestions on what my bill should look like and how I could get it down. Most interesting I discovered from my energy audit that a gas fireplace or wood stove is cheaper to run than to raise the thermostat to heat the whole house.
Take a page from the WWII playbook and try blackout curtains. They insulate, and they muffle street noise and keep a room darker for sleeping. You buy them at most department stores' home sections or make your own. Lined curtains, extra layers of drapes or even blankets will keep out the cold.
Easy do-it-yourself projects include weatherstripping, window caulking and attaching plastic sheeting on windows and glass doors. For the last (a personal favorite), use-two sided tape and and a blow dryer to pull it taut. It takes me on average a half hour to do a window and less once the ladder is already up. Another very inexpensive fix for exterior drafts is to insulate behind electrical outlets on exterior walls with small foam cutouts or rubber gaskets. This only takes minutes to install.
The newest smart thermostats allow you to program away from home on your smartphone, but very affordable models also allow you to set it and forget it, turning down the heat when you are asleep or away. Some utility companies offer rebates on smart thermostats, and some like ConEd (ED) offer free smart thermostats to customers. According to energy.gov, every one degree lower can reduce your heating bill by 1 percent and using a programmable thermostat year round can cut heating and cooling costs by 10 percent.
Another Old Farmer's Almanac tip is that running a humidifier will allow you to feel more comfortable at lower temperatures. It will also help your complexion. Just be careful the moisture level isn't too high or mold and mildew could create a worse problem than dry skin or high heating bills.
According to energy.gov, the worst offenders draining your power and wallet are computers, TV set-top boxes, DVD players, electronic charging units, gaming consoles and kitchen appliances. These phantom loads cost the average American household $100 a year. Turning these off with a convenient surge protector strip can drastically drop a bill. Replacing just 13 incandescent light bulbs with more energy efficient CFL or LED bulbs can save $50 annually. Pacific Gas & Electric (PCG) helpfully suggests that if a device's plug adapter runs warm to the touch or has a continuously running light or display, it is probably an energy vampire.
Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Close the flue in the fireplace once the fire is entirely out. Change your furnace filters once a month. Shorten your hot showers. This latter tip saves both water and energy -- especially if you turn your hot water heater down to around 120 degrees.
Open your drapes when the sun is shining into a room -- especially south-facing windows. Just imagine where a cat would lay to soak up the warmth and open the curtains to let Old Sol do its job. Close curtains when the sun has moved on. Outside your home, use solar-powered light fixtures where possible.
Some ceiling fans can be reversed to draw hot air down and keep you warmer. Check the owner's manual (available online if you've misplaced it) to see if yours has this option. Use rolled up towels or draft-dodgers at the bottoms of doors. If you bake or roast in the winter, leave the oven door ajar to warm the kitchen and shut the door once the oven cools down. Finally, if push comes to shove, most utility companies offer budget billing solutions and heat assistance for senior citizens and lower-income customers.