Market Snapshot: Stocks inch higher as tech shares recover; drop in oil prices weigh on energy

U.S. stocks were flat on Wednesday, with major indexes struggling for direction as technology stocks modestly recovered after a spate of weakness while energy shares fell and limited the broader market’s advance.

What are the main benchmarks doing?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.08% fell 3 points to 24,174. The S&P 500 SPX, +0.08% was down 2 points, or 0.1%, to 2,627. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, +0.19% was down 11 points to 6,751, a decline of 0.2%.

Both the S&P and the Nasdaq have declined for three straight sessions. If the S&P closes down for a fourth straight day, that will represent its longest streak of daily declines since March. A fourth straight daily drop for the Nasdaq would be its longest since November 2016.

Tech-heavy benchmarks such as the Nasdaq Composite, down 1.4% for the week, have seen the most selling in recent sessions, with analysts blaming profit-taking after big gains in large-capitalization tech stocks, as well as worries over the possible retention of a corporate alternative minimum tax as the U.S. overhauls its tax system. Keeping the corporate AMT could hit tech companies harder than others.

See: Here’s how violent the stock-market rotation out of tech has been

The main equity gauges still are showing sizable gains for the year, with the Dow up 22%, the S&P higher by 17% and the Nasdaq up 26%. All three are within 3 percentage points of record levels, continuing a historic streak without a decline of that modest magnitude.

Read more: Risks ‘high and rising’ for big drop in stocks, bonds, says government watchdog

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Energy shares were among the biggest decliners of the day, with the sector falling 0.5% alongside a 1.3% drop in the price of crude oil. Among the most active stocks, Hess Corp. HES, -1.27%  fell 1.7% while Marathon Oil Corp. MRO, -1.88%  was off 0.9%.

On the upside, technology shares rose 0.4%. However, the group has been struggling recently, and is down 1.9% thus far in December. Facebook FB, +1.64%  rose 1.5%.

What could help move markets?

The retention of the corporate alternative minimum tax in the Senate version of the Republicans’ tax bill has been seen as a factor in tech-stock selling. The House’s bill repealed the corporate AMT, but in a last-minute switch before passing its bill early Saturday morning, the Senate decided to keep the provision.

Read: Here’s why the corporate AMT is a hurdle to a final tax bill

On the data front, private-sector employers added 190,000 jobs in November, which was above expectations but below the rate added in October.

Separately, the increase in productivity of American firms and workers was unchanged at 3% in the third quarter under the government’s first do-over of its original report.

What are strategists saying?

“People are becoming a little more risk averse with the march up in technology. While these are great companies, a stock like Amazon AMZN, +0.89%  isn’t cheap. They’ve had a huge run, and they’ll need a pause to refresh a bit, which could be 10-15%, or even 25% in some names,” said Chris Bertelsen, chief investment officer at Aviance Capital Management, LLC.

“However, it isn’t the end of the world. We haven’t had a drawdown in a long time, so one could happen at any time, especially given the confluence of global political risk, and the fact that valuations aren’t totally out of control, they are on the high side.”

Which individual stocks look set for big moves?

Shares in Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOG, +1.14% GOOGL, +1.23%  rose 0.7% while Amazon was down 0.1% following news that Google had pulled YouTube from Amazon streaming devices.

American Eagle Outfitters Inc. AEO, -0.43% jumped 2.8% after it reported third-quarter same-store sales that came in above analyst forecasts.

Jack Daniel’s whiskey parent Brown-Forman Corp. BF.B, +5.42%  rose 5% after it reported its quarterly results.

United Parcel Service Inc. UPS, -1.27%  fell 0.6% after the shipping giant warned about delivery delays.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. UNH, +0.49%  said it would buy DaVita Inc.’s DVA, +10.41%  physician group for about $4.9 billion in cash. Shares of DaVita jumped 10.5% while UnitedHealth was up 0.2%.

What are other assets doing?

European stocks SXXP, -0.10%  were dropping for a second day in a row, while falls for tech and mining shares drove losses across Asia markets ADOW, -1.20%

The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, +0.26%  was edging lower, while gold futures GCG8, +0.16% were rallying from a four-month low. Oil futures CLF8, -1.37%  were losing ground.

Bitcoin BTCUSD, +6.26%  moved further above $12,000 Wednesday, last trading around $12,700.

Additional reporting by Barbara Kollmeyer

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