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US Stocks Close Slightly Higher        12/18 16:28

   After two days of huge losses, U.S. stocks ended the day back where they 
started on Tuesday. Energy companies sank as crude oil plunged 7 percent, but 
technology and consumer-focused companies climbed.

   NEW YORK (AP) -- After two days of huge losses, U.S. stocks ended the day 
back where they started on Tuesday. Energy companies sank as crude oil plunged 
7 percent, but technology and consumer-focused companies climbed.

   U.S. crude oil fell to its lowest price since August 2017, and it has now 
fallen almost 40 percent since early October. Investors are worried that 
supplies continue to increase and that demand is slowing as the global economy 
weakens. The plunge in oil prices has crushed energy company stocks in recent 

   Energy stocks including Exxon Mobil fell again on Tuesday, but some of those 
losses were offset by gains in Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing. Boeing 
raised its quarterly dividend and said it will buy back another $20 billion of 
its own stock. Boeing has tumbled on worries that the global trade war will hit 
its profits particularly hard.

   The Federal Reserve started its last meeting of the year. Investors expect 
it to raise interest rates on Wednesday when the meeting concludes. That would 
be its fourth increase this year, and its ninth in three years. Investors are 
hoping the Fed will say the increases are going to slow down in 2019 in light 
of recent signs that economic growth is slowing.

   Trading was turbulent. Two days of widespread market declines had knocked 
1,004 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and on Tuesday, investors 
couldn't find a convincing reason for stock prices to go higher. On the other 
hand they didn't see cause for another big decline, either.

   There haven't been any big developments in U.S.-China trade talks, a major 
focus for markets, since the beginning of this month. JJ Kinahan, chief markets 
strategist for TD Ameritrade, said that's left investors confused about the 
state of the trade dispute and reluctant to commit to stocks, while businesses 
aren't spending.

   "We don't know the rules of the game," he said. "People can't plan. When you 
can't plan, you're not anxious to buy stocks."

   The S&P 500 index inched up 0.22 points to 2,546.16, but is still trading at 
its lowest levels in 14 months. The Dow industrials added 82.66 points, or 0.4 
percent, to 23,675.64. The Nasdaq composite gained 30.18 points, or 0.4 
percent, to 6,783.91.

   The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies lost another 0.97 points, or 0.1 
percent, to 1,377.18. The index is 21 percent below the peak it set in August, 
meaning it's in what Wall Street calls a "bear market."

   Benchmark U.S. crude plunged 7.3 percent to $46.24 a barrel in New York. 
Brent crude, used to price international oils, sank 5.6 percent to $56.26 a 
barrel in London.

   The twin fears of slower global economic growth and rising stockpiles are 
bad for crude prices. While OPEC and several other countries recently agreed to 
cut production of oil in 2019, that hasn't stemmed the decline in prices. 
Traders have doubts that the cut is large enough to balance supply and demand.

   "They're not the only game in town anymore," Kinahan said of OPEC. He said 
rising oil production in the U.S. and a combination of alternative fuels and 
greater efficiency by businesses has reduced OPEC's ability to sway the oil 

   On Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration said U.S. shale oil 
production will keep climbing in January, and the Wall Street Journal reported 
that oil production in Russia reached a record high in December.

   The Federal Reserve recently forecast three more increases in interest rates 
next year, but investors doubt that's going to happen. The Fed's rates help set 
borrowing costs for various types of loans. Higher rates can slow economic 
growth, and that's something investors have been worrying about as China and 
Europe have suggested growth is slowing, and the U.S. economy is also expected 
to cool off in 2019.

   Those higher rates also make stocks look relatively less attractive. 

   After the increase in its dividend and the larger stock repurchase, Boeing 
climbed 3.8 percent to $328.06. The stock has dropped 16 percent since early 
October. Several other companies that have recently suffered big losses also 
said they will buy back more stock, including health care products giant 
Johnson & Johnson and insurer Allstate.

   The Commerce Department said developers broke ground on more apartments in 
November, and homebuilders climbed. Lennar gained 2.5 percent to $41.01 and NVR 
added 1.1 percent to $2,479.81. The companies have taken huge losses this year 
as rising mortgage rates and prices have reduced home sales.

   Real estate investment trusts also rose Tuesday. Apartment building owner 
AvalonBay Communities gained 1.1 percent to $181.91 and CBRE Group rose 4.3 
percent to $41.15. Real estate companies had taken sharp losses Monday.

   Bond prices rose again. The yield on the 10-year Treasury dipped to 2.82 
percent from 2.85 percent late Monday.

   Germany's DAX lost 0.3 percent, deepening its slide into a bear market. 
Britain's FTSE 100 shed 1.1 percent and France's CAC 40 dripped 1 percent lower.

   Losses were more severe in Asia. The Nikkei 225 in Japan lost 1.8 percent, 
the Hang Seng in Hong Kong dropped 1 percent and South Korea's Kospi slipped 
0.4 percent.

   In other commodities trading, wholesale gasoline fell 4.2 percent to $1.35 a 
gallon and heating oil lost 4 percent to $1.75 a gallon. Natural gas jumped 8.8 
percent to $3.84 per 1,000 cubic feet.

   Gold inched up 0.1 percent to $1,253.30 an ounce. Silver fell 0.4 percent to 
$1470 an ounce. Copper skidded 3.3 percent to $2.66 a pound.

   The dollar dipped to 112.53 Japanese yen from 112.75 yen late Monday. The 
euro rose to $1.1357 from $1.1350, and the British pound rose to $1.2639 from 


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