Wall Street reverses course and ends higher

Last Updated Jul 6, 2016 10:49 AM EDT

NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks changed course and turned higher Wednesday, with drug and consumer companies leading the way. Investors were willing to take a few more risks than the day before, but they remained cautious, and demand for bonds and precious metals stayed high.

The Dow Jones industrial index wound up 78 points higher, or 0.4 percent, to close at 17,918.62. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 11.18 points, or 0.5 percent, finishing at 2,099.73. The Nasdaq composite gained 36.26 points, or 0.8 percent, to end at 4,859.16.

Wall Street opened lower, with the Dow Jones industrials falling as much as 127 points early on. Indexes started moving higher at noon and finished at their highest levels of the day. Phone companies, traditionally safe investments, fell after some recent gains. Bond prices were little changed after Tuesday's surge, which pulled the yields on long-term U.S. bonds to their lowest levels ever recorded.

The day before, investors flocked to bonds and sold off all but the steadiest stocks as they worried about the health of Britain's financial system. Those fears faded a bit on Wednesday, but Kristina Hooper, head of U.S. investment strategies at Allianz Global Investors, said demand for bonds will remain high as the effects of the British vote to leave the European Union ripple through the markets.

"It's probably safe to assume there will be bouts of continued fear going forward that could drive the yield down ... even lower than where we've already been," she said.

Drugmakers AbbVie (ABBV) and Biogen (BIIB) led health care stocks higher after regulators in the European Union approved their drug Zinbryta, a treatment for multiple sclerosis that can be take just once a month. AbbVie rose $1.45, or 2.3 percent, to $63.37 and Biogen gained $5.45, or 2.3 percent, to $247.48.

Bond prices inched higher and yields fell as investors sought safety following the Brexit vote. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.37 percent from 1.38 percent, and the yield on the 30-year Treasury bond fell to 2.14 percent from 2.15 percent. According to Tradeweb, both yields set all-time lows early Wednesday, reaching 1.32 percent and 2.10 percent, respectively.

Bond yields have tumbled over the last few months following a weak U.S. jobs report and then the unexpected result of the British vote. While the yields on U.S. bonds have fallen, they remain higher than yields from other advanced economies, some of which are negative. The U.S. economy also appears to be in better shape.

Netflix (NFLX) fell after a Jefferies & Co. analyst said its U.S. subscriber growth may be slower than expected. John Janedis also said competition is increasing for Netflix. He downgraded the stock to "underperform" from "hold" and cut his price target to $80 per share from $120. Netflix lost $3.31, or 3.4 percent, to $94.60.

Other consumer stocks traded higher, however. Online retailer Amazon (AMZN) rose $9.51, or 1.3 percent, to $737.61 and used car dealership CarMax (KMX) gained $2.69, or 5.6 percent, to $50.45.

Phone company stocks were the only S&P 500 sector to trade lower. Frontier Communications (FTR) pulled the sector to small losses as it gave up 10 cents, or 2 percent, to $4.88. Phone companies are the best-performing sector on the S&P 500 over the last month.

Nortek (NTK), which makes heating and ventilation systems for buildings, agreed to be acquired by Britain's Melrose Industries for $86 per share, or $1.4 billion. Nortek stock jumped $24.09, or 38.6 percent, to $86.58.

The price of gold rose $8.40 to $1,367.10 an ounce, and silver surged 30 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $20.20 an ounce. Gold is trading at its highest price since March 2014, while silver is at its highest price since August of that year. Newmont Mining (NEM) gained $1.04, or 2.6 percent, to $41.42 and Harmony Gold (HMY) rose 22 cents, or 5.4 percent, to $4.32.

Copper, meanwhile, fell 3 cents to $2.15 a pound.

Oil prices, which fell earlier in the day, also reversed course. Benchmark U.S. crude closed up 83 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $47.43 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oil, added 84 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $48.80 a barrel in London.

Gas prices lagged after the U.S. government said stockpiles of gasoline jumped last week. That was a surprise to analysts, as S&P Global Platts said they expected gasoline stockpiles to fall by 900,000 barrels.

The price of wholesale gasoline remained at $1.43 a gallon, and companies that refine oil into gas stumbled. Marathon Petroleum (MPC) fell $2.28, or 5.9 percent, to $36.50, and Valero Energy (VLO) fell $1.18, or 2.4 percent, to $48.66. Phillips (PSX) 66 slumped $1.56, or 2 percent, to $76.37.

In other energy trading, heating oil gained 3 cents to $1.47 a gallon. Natural gas rose 2 cents to $2.79 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The British pound continued to weaken. It's at its lowest in more than 30 years and fell to $1.2922 from $1.3032 Wednesday. The dollar slipped to 101.40 yen from 101.55 yen on Tuesday. The euro rose to $1.1105 from $1.1075.

France's CAC lost 1.9 percent, and Germany's DAX shed 1.7 percent, while Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.2 percent. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 and South Korea's Kospi each skidded 1.9 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index slid 1.2 percent.