Market Wrap: S&P 500 Sets a Record High

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LM Otero/AP

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks rose for a fourth straight session on Monday as large-cap technology shares gained and gave an outsized boost to the Dow, though continued weakness in crude oil weighed on the energy sector.

The S&P 500 (^GPSC) ended at a record, though trading was quiet with many market participants out ahead of the upcoming Christmas holiday. About 6 billion shares traded on all U.S. platforms, according to BATS exchange data, compared with the month-to-date average of 7.86 billion.

Tech was the strongest sector of the day, with the S&P information technology sector up 1.1 percent. Intel (INTC) rose 2.3 percent to $37.21, providing the biggest boost to the Dow (^DJI), while IBM (IBM) rose 1.8 percent to $161.44 and Cisco Systems (CSCO) rose 1.6 percent to $28.22. Priceline (PCLN) rose 3.6 percent to $1,149.38.

"I wouldn't put a lot of weight on this week's trading, given year-end maneuvers and how slow it is," said Rex Macey, chief allocation officer at Wilmington Trust Investment Advisors in Atlanta, Georgia. "While I'm comfortable with the level of the broader market, I don't think there are obvious bargains. Some may say oil stocks are bargains now, but it's too soon to say."

Saudi Arabia Maintains Oil Production

Crude oil sank 3.2 percent after Saudi Arabia's powerful oil minister said OPEC would not cut production at any price. The S&P energy index fell 1 percent as one of the day's weakest sectors; Chesapeake Energy (CHK) fell 7.3 percent to $18.42 while Southwestern Energy (SWN) was off 5.5 percent at $29.31.

Crude oil is coming off four straight weeks of declines, and has fallen in 11 of the past 12 completed weeks.

The S&P rose 3.4 percent last week, boosted by a 5 percent jump over three sessions, after the U.S. Federal Reserve said it would take a "patient" approach toward raising interest rates and oil prices appeared to stabilize. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 154.57 points, or 0.87 percent, to 17,959.37, the S&P 500 gained 7.89 points, or 0.38 percent, to 2,078.54 and the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) added 16.04 points, or 0.34 percent, to 4,781.42.

Discouraging data on U.S. home sales failed to derail the "Santa" rally, what traders often call a pre-Christmas advance. The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of previously occupied homes fell 6.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.93 million. That's the slowest pace in six months.

A Slump and a Surge in Pharmaceuticals

Gilead (GILD) slumped 14 percent to $92.90 as the biggest drag on both the S&P and Nasdaq 100. Express Scripts (ESRX), the nation's largest pharmacy benefit manager, said it would no longer cover Gilead's treatments after it lined up a cheaper price from AbbVie for its newly approved hepatitis C treatment.

Achillion Pharmaceuticals (ACHN) said it would test a combination of two of its experimental hepatitis C drugs which showed promise in separate studies. Shares surged 10 percent to $15.61.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,806 to 1,291, for a 1.40-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,682 issues rose and 1,072 fell for a 1.57-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 73 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 144 new highs and 36 new lows.

What to Watch Tuesday:

  • The government reports the latests on durable goods orders, the gross domestic product and personal income and outlays, all at 8:30 a.m.

  • Sales of new homes are released at 10 a.m.

The Associated Press contributed to this post.