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Wall St. opens with slight gains but energy down again

Reuters – U.S. stocks were modestly higher on Wednesday, putting major indexes on track to end 2014 near record levels, though energy shares once again fell alongside crude oil prices.

While the market’s seasonal trend of modest moves and low volume continued, there was heavier action in the energy space. Crude oil lost 2.6 percent, the fourth drop of at least 2 percent in the past five sessions, putting the commodity is at its lowest since May 2009.

The S&P Energy index fell 1.2 percent as the biggest decliner of the day. The industry is also the year’s worst performer, off 9.3 percent. Among the day’s biggest losers, Newfield Exploration fell 3.4 percent to $26.35 while Noble Corp was off 2.9 percent at $16.54.

The broader move higher confirmed Wall Street’s recent upward bias. The S&P 500 has risen in seven of the past nine sessions, hitting a series of intraday and closing records. The stock market will be closed Thursday for the New Year’s holiday.

“The trend isn’t broken and you need to go with it until it breaks,” said Michael Matousek, head trader at U.S. Global Investors Inc in San Antonio.

“I don’t see anything coming up that could really break the fundamental picture out there. We could see pullbacks, which you should buy on, but I don’t see a downtrend.”

NephroGenex Inc soared 265 percent to $17.25 a day after it said its lead drug was found to be safe in patients with diabetic nephropathy in a cardiac safety study. More than 4.2 million shares traded, by far the stock’s most active day.

Jobless claims rose more than expected in the latest week, snapping four straight weeks of declines, though the rise was not enough to change views of sustained strength in the labor market.

Separately, the pace of business activity in the U.S. Midwest slowed more than expected in December.

Pending home sales rose 0.8 percent in November, above the 0.5 percent growth that was expected.

At 9:51 a.m. (1451 GMT) the Dow Jones industrial average rose 32.06 points, or 0.18 percent, to 18,015.13, the S&P 500 gained 1.42 points, or 0.07 percent, to 2,081.77 and the Nasdaq Composite added 9.77 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,787.21. With the day’s move, the S&P is 0.4 percent below its record close.

For the year, the Dow is up 8.5 percent, its sixth straight annual gain, the S&P is up 12.6 percent, and the Nasdaq up 14.4 percent, The best-performing S&P component in 2014 is Southwest Airlines Co up 123.8 percent, while the worst is Transocean Ltd, down 62.2 percent.

NYSE advancing issues outnumbered decliners 1,481 to 1,280, for a 1.16-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,296 issues rose and 1,019 fell for a 1.27-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

The S&P 500 was posting 29 new 52-week highs and 6 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 63 new highs and 8 lows.

Trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York

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