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Dec 15, 5:10 PM EST

Tech companies lead US stocks higher as tax plan advances


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AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

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Wall Street capped the week with broad gains, propelling the major stock indexes to a new set of milestones Friday.

Investors welcomed signs that Congressional Republicans were solidifying support for a major overhaul of the nation's tax laws ahead of an expected vote next week.

Technology stocks led the gains, which more than wiped out the market's losses from the day before. Health care companies and banks also posted solid gains. Energy stocks were the only laggard.

Small-company stocks, which stand to benefit most from lower corporate tax rates, rose more than the rest of the market.

"The tax bill seems to be the driver right now," said Erik Davidson, chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank. "The market just thinks it will get done."

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 23.80 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,675.81. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 143.08 points, or 0.6 percent, to 24,651.74. The Nasdaq added 80.06 points, or 1.2 percent, to 6,936.58. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 23.47 points, or 1.6 percent, to 1,530.42.

The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq closed at record highs and finished the week with gains.

The indexes were headed higher early on as investors watched developments in Washington with the Republican-led tax overhaul bill. GOP leaders moved to placate Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who had said Thursday that he would vote against the bill unless the child tax credit was beefed up.

By Friday afternoon, Congressional Republicans had finalized the bill, expanding the child tax credit, and winning Rubio's support. The move provided a major boost for the GOP lawmakers in the Senate who are trying to hold together a razor-thin majority to pass the bill in a vote next week.

Technology stocks, which are leading the market this year, notched solid gains. Intel rose $1.30, or 3 percent, to $44.56.

"We had seen some rotation out of it the last few weeks," said Jim Davis, regional investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. "We're starting to see more of a change back to some of the sectors that have done well this year."

Banks and other financial companies were among the biggest gainers. Navient added 58 cents, or 4.6 percent, to $13.20.

A batch of strong company earnings and outlooks also helped lift the markets Friday.

Costco Wholesale rose 3.3 percent after the warehouse club operator's latest quarterly earnings and sales came in well above financial analysts' expectations. The stock added $6.20 to $192.73.

Shares in Jabil gained 1.5 percent after the electronics manufacturer posted a bigger profit and better revenue than analysts had anticipated. The stock picked up 42 cents to $27.87.

Oracle's latest quarterly results failed to impress investors. Its stock fell 3.8 percent after the second-quarter performance of the business software company's cloud-computing business and its forecast for its current quarter disappointed traders. Oracle slid $1.89 to $48.30.

CSX slumped 7.6 percent after the railroad operator said CEO Hunter Harrison is taking a medical leave. The stock was the biggest decliner in the S&P 500, shedding $4.38 to $52.93.

Bond prices were little changed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury held steady at 2.35 percent late Thursday.

Oil futures finished mixed. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 26 cents to settle at $57.30 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 8 cents to close at $63.23 per barrel in London.

Gold added 40 cents to $1,257.50 an ounce. Silver added 13 cents to $16.06 an ounce. Copper gained 6 cents, or 2 percent, to $3.13 a pound.

The dollar rose to 112.63 yen from 112.18 yen on Thursday. The euro weakened to $1.1757 from $1.1792.

Bitcoin futures finished its first week of trading on the Cboe Futures Exchange on a high note, climbing $1,305, or 7.8 percent, to $18,105.

The futures allow investors to make bets on the future price of bitcoin. The average price of an actual bitcoin was $17,682 in trading Friday on private exchanges, according to Coindesk. The price of the digital currency has soared this year, having begun 2017 under $1,000.

Bitcoin futures trading on the Cboe, which began late Sunday and had its first day of full trading on a major U.S. exchange on Monday, slowed a little bit after the first day, said Kalen Holliday, spokeswoman for Interactive Brokers, which handled half the volume on the initial day of trading.

All told, the weekly volume for the January contract was 9,588, according to FactSet.

At this point, it's too early to tell whether futures trading, which makes it easier to short bitcoin, will reduce the volatility of the digital currency.

"You have to have a pretty strong stomach at this point," Holliday said. "It's just right at the outset. Maybe things will settle down, maybe they won't. It's too early to tell."

Investors will get another option to trade in bitcoins Sunday, when the Cboe rival Chicago Mercantile Exchange is set to begin trade in bitcoin futures contracts.

In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline slipped 2 cents, or 1 percent, to $1.65 a gallon. Heating oil lost a penny to $1.90 a gallon. Natural gas fell 7 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $2.61 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Major stock indexes in Europe finished mostly higher. Germany's DAX rose 0.3 percent, while France's CAC 40 shed 0.2 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.6 percent after European Union leaders said they would allow the Brexit talks to move on to the next stage, including trade.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index dipped 0.6, while South Korea's Kospi climbed 0.5 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 1.1 percent.

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