US stocks inch higher in slow pre-holiday trading

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, file photo, the American flag flies above the Wall Street entrance to the New York Stock Exchange. U.S. stocks are slightly higher Friday, Dec. 23, 2016, as trading gets off to a quiet start heading into the Christmas holiday weekend. Health care stocks are making small gains and companies that make basic materials are trading slightly lower. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK — Wall Street traders sometimes root for year-end "Santa Claus rallies," but on Friday, hardly a creature was stirring as stocks finished slightly higher on the quietest full day of trading in more than a year. Health care companies brought in most of the gains.

Major U.S. indexes stayed in a narrow range throughout the day. Drugmakers and other companies in health care did the best, while retailers continued to take small losses just before the holiday. Energy companies also slipped, and they took their first weekly loss since the beginning of November. The Dow Jones industrial average, however, rose for the seventh week in a row.

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin fell after President-elect Donald Trump again tweeted that the company's F-35 fighter jet costs too much. The stock is down almost 6 percent this month.

"This is a negotiating tactic," said Josh Sullivan, a Seaport Global analyst who covers aerospace and defense companies. "You're seeing the negative portion of the negotiation in public where privately they may be more constructive."

The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 14.93 points, or 0.1 percent, to 19,933.81. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 2.83 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,263.79. The Nasdaq composite rose 15.27 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,462.69.

Small-company stocks did far better, as the Russell 2000 climbed 8.85 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,371.51.

Fewer than 2 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange. That's barely half the volume of an average day. The last full trading day with that little activity was in October 2015.

Lockheed Martin fell after Trump said on Twitter that Lockheed's F-35 fighter jet costs too much and that he has asked Boeing to "price-out" a comparable F-18 jet. Trump complained earlier this month about the costs of the F-35, which brought in about 20 percent of Lockheed's revenue last year. Lockheed gave up $3.21, or 1.3 percent, to $249.59.

This month Trump also criticized Boeing for the cost of the next Air Force One. The presidential jet is far less significant for Boeing than the F-35 is for Lockheed, however, and Boeing shares were only briefly affected.

Sullivan, of Seaport, said Trump's tweets are a new type of bad publicity for defense companies. But even if the President-elect periodically criticizes the companies in public, investors are still optimistic about their prospects under his administration. If Trump builds up the U.S. nuclear arsenal, as he proposed doing in a tweet Thursday, that would also involve more military spending.

"Ultimately (Trump) ran on a strong defense spending platform," he said. Defense stocks have done better than the rest of the market overall since the election.

So far, investor optimism that Trump's spending plans could boost economic growth is outweighing any concerns about his trade proposals, brash style and Twitter pronouncements, which have moved company stocks at times. That may change when he's in office and can more easily back up his comments with executive actions and policy shifts.

Drug companies made small gains on Friday. Botox maker Allergan rose $5.09, or 2.6 percent, to $199.08. Bristol-Myers Squibb picked up 85 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $59.61 and health insurer Aetna added $1.26, or 1 percent, to $125.95.

Cintas, a uniform rental company, slipped after its second-quarter profit fell short of Wall Street's forecasts. Analysts said its first-aid business, which sells products like first-aid kits, eyewash stations and emergency cabinets, had a disappointing quarter. The stock lost $3.73, or 3.1 percent, to $116.36.

Benchmark U.S. crude added 7 cents to close at $53.02 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 11 cents to close at $55.16 a barrel in London.

In other energy trading, natural gas prices continued to climb as investors anticipated that colder weather will lead to more demand for home heating. Natural gas futures rose 12 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $3.66 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline added 2 cents to $1.63 a gallon and heating oil stood still at $2.48 a gallon.

The dollar slid to 117.26 yen from 117.60 yen. The euro rose to $1.0452 from $1.0433.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.54 percent from 2.55 percent.

The price of gold rose $2.90 to $1,133.60 an ounce. Silver lost 11 cents to $15.76 an ounce. Copper gave up 2 cents to $2.48 a pound.

Britain's FTSE 100 and the CAC-40 in France both rose 0.1 percent. In Germany, the DAX lost 0.1 percent. The Hang Seng of Hong Kong retreated 0.3 percent and the Kospi in South Korea finished slightly lower. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday.

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AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/marley-jay

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