Wall St. pulls back from record; utilities slump

NEW YORK U.S. stocks fell on Tuesday as investors engaged in profit-taking to pull major indexes from record levels, while the trend of modest moves and low volume continued heading into the final trading day of the year.The day's losses were broad, with each of the ten primary S&P 500 sectors in negative territory. Utilities .SPLRCU - 2014's best sector performer - led the decline with a drop of 2.1 percent. Equities have enjoyed a solid rally of late, buoyed by strong economic data and the U.S. Federal Reserve's commitment to be "patient" about raising interest rates. The S&P 500 gained nearly 6 percent over the prior eight sessions and managed to score its 53rd record close of the year on Monday.The speed and scale of the rally provided incentive to take profits, and amplified volatility is possible this week with many market participants out for the holiday, which dampens volume. The stock market will be closed on Thursday for the New Year's holiday."It wasn’t going to take much to prompt the decline, it’s probably more resting than anything else. We’ve had a pretty significant move higher," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Equity Management LLC in San Francisco. "We’ve marched straight up from 1,970 or so to about 2,100 so it’s only natural that we are going to get a little bit of a pullback here."The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 55.16 points, or 0.31 percent, to 17,983.07, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 10.22 points, or 0.49 percent, to 2,080.35 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 29.47 points, or 0.61 percent, to 4,777.44.In the latest economic data, consumer confidence rose slightly less than expected in December, while U.S. single-family home price appreciation slowed less than forecast in October. NeuroDerm Ltd (NDRM.O) soared more than 193 percent to $18.14 on heavy volume after it said data from a mid-stage study suggested that a higher dose of its Parkinson's drug could provide an alternative to treatments that require surgery. Civeo Corp (CVEO.N), which provides temporary housing for oilfield workers and miners, late Monday slashed its workforce and forecast revenue could fall by one-third as slumping crude prices force oil producers to cut costs. The stock plunged 52.6 percent to $3.92 on volume of about 56.2 million shares, the most active day in its history. Volume was light, with about 4.42 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, well below the 7.06 billion average so far this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,806 to 1,262, for a 1.43-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,671 issues fell and 1,031 advanced for a 1.62-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.The benchmark S&P 500 posted 25 new 52-week highs and 6 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 107 new highs and 39 new lows. (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Trump, Sanders explore staging unusual presidential debate

BISMARCK, N.D. Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders on Thursday explored staging an unconventional U.S. presidential debate that would sideline Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and create a television spectacle that could attract huge ratings.The two men - a billionaire and a democratic socialist - expressed interest in a one-on-one encounter in California even though Republican and Democratic presidential candidates traditionally do not debate each other until the parties have selected their nominees."I'd love to debate Bernie," Trump told reporters in North Dakota, after he secured enough delegates to clinch the Republican presidential nomination. "I think it would get very high ratings. It would be in a big arena."Basking in his newly sealed nomination at a later campaign rally in Billings, Montana, Trump said he expected to put 15 states in play in the general election, compared with three or four for a traditional Republican. He named California, Washington and Michigan among others. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email there were no formal plans yet for a debate. But Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN there had been "a few discussions" between the campaigns about the details. "We hope that he will not chicken out," Weaver said. "We hope Donald Trump has the courage to get on stage now that he said he would." Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, is running far behind Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election. But a nationally televised debate with the presumptive Republican nominee would be a big boost to his chances in the California primary on June 7, when Clinton is likely to clinch the nomination. Trump said a debate with Sanders could raise up to $15 million for charity."I'd love to debate Bernie, but they'll have to pay a lot of money for it," he said. The idea was hatched during an appearance by Trump on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" late on Wednesday. Kimmel said he asked Trump about the debate at the suggestion of Sanders."Game on," Sanders tweeted. "I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary."Sanders himself appeared on Thursday night on the talk show, where he said Kimmel made it possible for a "very interesting debate" between "two guys who look at the world very, very differently."Sanders added that the goal would be to have the debate in a stadium in California. He then had a warning for Trump. If I become the Democratic presidential nomination, he said, "we're going to beat him and beat him bad." 'NOT A SERIOUS DISCUSSION' Clinton, who backed out of an agreement to debate Sanders before the California vote, said she did not think a Trump-Sanders showdown would happen."This doesn’t sound like a serious discussion. I’m looking forward to debating Donald Trump in the general election. I really can’t wait to get on the stage with him," she told CNN in a phone interview.A Fox News spokeswoman confirmed the network was trying to host a forum with Trump and Sanders. Representatives from other networks did not immediately respond to requests for comment. "If it does come to pass, it would generate enormous ratings," said Alan Schroeder, a Northeastern University professor who has written extensively about presidential debates. "They are from two different planets. You have a real personality contrast. It would dominate media coverage."Sanders, who has promised to continue his campaign through the Democratic nominating convention in July, has said he will do everything he can to ensure that Trump does not win the White House. "Smart and bold move by Sanders," Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said. "The Clinton people are furious but Bernie wins points for being so aggressive.”Clinton has tried to woo Sanders supporters as she turns her attention to the general election. But some Democrats worry his supporters - who are largely young, working-class and disillusioned with the Democratic Party establishment - will turn instead to political neophyte Trump, who has championed a populist agenda. The debate would give Trump a national forum to criticize Clinton and try to win over Sanders supporters ahead of an expected Trump-Clinton general election contest, Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis said."I think Sanders should think long and hard about giving Trump a forum," Kofinis said. "It crosses a line, but apparently in this election there is no line." Dale Ranney, 62, a Trump volunteer who has been to 21 of his rallies, said she would be delighted to see Trump and Sanders debate.“I think it’s a great idea, any time you can get more information to the people, absolutely," Ranney said. "Having Trump debate a socialist? Absolutely. Go for it." (Additional reporting by Emily Flitter in New York, Megan Cassella, James Oliphant and Alana Wise in Washington, Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

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Wall Street opens higher as tech, financial stocks rise

Wall Street opened higher on Friday, boosted by technology and financial stocks.Semiconductor stocks .SOX were trading higher after Applied Materials (AMAT.O), seen as an industry bellwether, forecast a higher-than-expected third-quarter profit on the back of strong demand for chips. The company's stock rose 12.8 percent. The S&P financial sector index .SPSY rose 1.02 percent as a flurry of comments from the U.S. Federal Reserve officials, suggested a possibility of an interest rate hike as early as June. New York Fed President William Dudley said on Thursday the U.S. economy was strong enough to warrant a rate hike in June or July."We got rattled earlier this week by shifting Fed perception," said Scott Brown, Chief Economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida. "Now we're back to looking at two rates increases this year, maybe even three." The S&P 500 has fallen 4.4 percent since it hit a record high on May 21 last year. The benchmark index has given up all its gains for the year due to underwhelming corporate earnings, mixed economic data and uncertainty regarding the trajectory of rate hikes. At 9:48 a.m. ET (1348 GMT) the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 71.06 points, or 0.41 percent, at 17,506.46, the S&P 500 .SPX was up 10.03 points, or 0.49 percent, at 2,050.07 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 35.74 points, or 0.76 percent, at 4,748.28.Nine of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, with the information technology index's .SPLRCT 1.16 percent rise leading the advancers. Oil prices were marginally lower as investors cashed in recent gains and focus shifted again to global oversupply.Existing home sales in the United States rose better-than-expected in April, marking the second straight month of increase. InterOil (IOC.N) jumped 31 percent to $41.36 after Oil Search (OSH.AX) agreed to buy the company for $2.2 billion. AthenaHealth (ATHN.O) fell 6.1 percent to $121.55 after the company appointed a new chief financial officer.Campbell Soup (CPB.N) fell 4 percent to $61.41 after the company reported lower-than-expected quarterly sales.Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,037 to 659. On the Nasdaq, 1,718 issues rose and 561 fell.The S&P 500 index showed seven new 52-week highs and one new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded eight new highs and 12 new lows. (Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)

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Trump draws even with Clinton in national White House poll

WASHINGTON Republican Donald Trump pulled even with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Wednesday, in a dramatic early sign that the Nov. 8 presidential election might be more hotly contested than first thought.While much can change in the six months until the election,the results of the online survey are a red flag for the Clinton campaign that the billionaire's unorthodox bid for the White House cannot be brushed aside.Trump's numbers surged after he effectively won the Republican nomination last week by knocking out his two remaining rivals, according to the poll.The national survey found 41 percent of likely voters supporting Clinton and 40 percent backing Trump, with 19 percent undecided. The survey of 1,289 people was conducted over five days and has a credibility interval of 3 percentage points."Very happy to see these numbers," Trump said in a written comment to Reuters. "Good direction." A spokesman for Clinton's campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the poll.A Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted in the five days to May 4 had the former secretary of state at 48 percent and the New York magnate at 35 percent. Republican strategist Dave Carney said the Reuters/Ipsos poll showed the vulnerability of Clinton, who is still battling U.S. Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. “She has been in the public eye for decades, served in high office, and now she’s in a dead heat with Trump, in a race that everyone thought she would win easily,” said Carney, who has been critical of Trump. “Everyone thought it would be a romp.” REPUBLICAN RELUCTANCE Trump has his own problems, though. He is struggling to bring some senior Republicans behind his campaign after primary election battles in which his fiery rhetoric rankled party elites. Several Republican leaders -- including House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan -- are withholding their support. "After a tough primary, that's going to take some effort," Ryan said about unifying the party. "We are committed to putting that effort in." The former reality TV star will face pressure to tone down his rhetoric and clarify his policy positions when he visits Republican lawmakers, including Ryan, on Thursday.Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney criticized Trump on Wednesday for not releasing his tax returns, saying the only explanation was that the documents contained a "bombshell."Trump has said that he will make public his tax returns onthe completion of an audit. Clinton and Trump both poll well with voters of their respective parties, but independent voters continue to express uncertainty about who they will support, with 38 percent in the Reuters/Ipsos poll saying they are unsure or would vote for someone else.With the party's primary season winding down, the two likely nominees have turned their attention to attacking each other, both on policy and personality. Clinton took aim at Trump's tax reform plan at a rally in New Jersey on Wednesday. With a typical American family earning $54,000 per year, Clinton said, "It would take that family 24 years of work to earn what Donald Trump’s tax plan will hand out to people like him in just one year. That is no way to create good job with rising incomes for the vast majority of Americans, is it?"Trump has taunted Clinton in recent days for failing to "close the deal" against Sanders. University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said Trump - who has promised to force Mexico to pay for a border wall to halt illegal immigration and called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country - could also face a wall of opposition among minority voters."This is an election that will be determined as much by the demographic composition of the American electorate as anything else - and that didn’t change in a week," he said. Clinton's loss in the Democratic primary election in West Virginia on Tuesday also signaled possible trouble for her in industrial states in November, underscoring how she still needs to court working-class voters in the Rust Belt.Roughly six in 10 voters in West Virginia, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in country, said they were very worried about the direction of the U.S. economy in the next few years, according to a preliminary ABC News exit poll. The same proportion cited the economy and jobs as the most important issue in the election. (Additional reporting by Alana Wise, Megan Cassella, Emily Stephenson Timothy Ahmann and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Alistair Bell)

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Asian stocks at two-month lows as oil weighs; dollar up

HONG KONG Asian stocks slipped to two-month lows on Monday as weak oil prices weighed on sentiment while the dollar got a lift against its peers as the differences in policy directions between the world's top central banks became starker.MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was down 0.2 percent, its lowest since Mar. 11. Hong Kong and Chinese stocks led regional markets lower.European stocks were expected to open slightly higher with spreadbetters picking Britain's FTSE 100 .FTSE to open up 0.4 percent, Germany's DAX .GDAXI 0.5 percent and France's CAC 40 .FCHI 0.3 percent. China's April consumer inflation and producer price data painted a mixed picture of deflationary pressures in the world's second largest economy.Expectations of further monetary policy easing had already been dented by strong March China data, but economists are divided over whether that was just a blip or a more sustainable trend."I think monetary policy will be kept steady with structural easing - targeted easing for some sectors," said Nie Wen, economist at Hwabao Trust in Shanghai. Cuts in reserve requirement ratios (RRR) are likely although the People's Bank of China has been relying on other tools such as medium-term funds to inject liquidity, he said.The moderate price data came after the official People's Daily quoted an "authoritative person" on Monday saying China may suffer from a financial crisis and economic recession if the government relies on too much stimulus. Shen Weizheng, fund manager at Shanghai-based Ivy Capital, said that he was now much less bullish on stocks, interpreting the article as a sign that Beijing will rein in credit expansion after the first quarter's lending surge.Noting the yen's fresh weakness, investors flocked to Japanese stocks .N225, pushing them up 1.5 percent though the likelihood of weak first-quarter earnings kept broader sentiment in check."It will probably take a few months to price the bad news in, so the market is likely to stay weak for a while," said Masashi Oda, general manager at strategic investment department at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Asset Management.In the Philippines, the main index .PSI initially fell as tough-talking mayor Rodrigo Duterte looks almost certain to become the country's next president, but then reversed to be up 0.5 percent. Wall Street put in a mixed performance overnight, undercut by tumbling oil prices amid expectations that U.S. crude inventories would again build to record highs.In the currency markets, the dollar extended gains on Tuesday, pushing above 108.74 against the yen JPY= and 1.137 against the euro EUR= despite a broad-based pullback in U.S. Treasury yields.With U.S. officials suggesting markets are under-pricing rate hikes and Tokyo warning it was prepared to step in to weaken the yen, traders are growing more bullish on the dollar. "Don't underestimate the power of short covering," Kathy Lien, managing director at BK Asset Management, said in a note to clients. While the dollar is "still a sell on rallies" against the yen, Lien said the currency could soar to 110 yen quickly if the 20-day simple moving average at 108.83 were broken. "When a currency... squeezes higher quickly, causing investors to panic and abandon their positions, the rally could be sharp and aggressive particularly when positions are skewed so heavily in the opposite direction," she said.In the wake of the yen's surge, Finance Minister Taro Aso on Monday said Tokyo is ready to intervene to weaken the currency if moves are volatile enough to hurt the country's trade and economy. Aso reiterated the message on Tuesday.U.S. crude oil CLc1 was down 0.3 percent in early Asian trade at $43.31 a barrel, after shedding 2.8 percent on Monday. Brent crude LCOc1 dropped 3.8 percent overnight to settle at $43.63 before edging higher.The dollar's gains pushed gold prices lower with the precious metal XAU= falling to a 1-1/2 week low on Tuesday. Prices have flatlined after rallying in the last week of April. (Additional reporting by Lisa Twaronite in TOKYO and China economics team; Editing by Richard Borsuk & Shri Navaratnam)

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