Health stocks boost Wall Street; energy a drag

(Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Tuesday as an upbeat outlook from UnitedHealth lifted health insurers, though a sharp drop in oil prices weighed on energy shares and limited the advance.

The day’s small gains followed a decline in the market on Monday. Analysts said the post-U.S. election rally may be losing momentum, wit the S&P 500 now up roughly 8 percent for the year to date.

Wall Street has risen sharply following Donald Trump’s White House win, helped in part by investor expectations that his plans to increase infrastructure spending, cut corporate taxes and reduce regulation will boost the economy.

“The Trump rally seems to have stalled out to some extent, and I think it’s stalled because we’re starting to run into valuation concerns,” said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer of Hugh Johnson Advisors LLC in Albany, New York.

“He’s given some extra life to the recovery and the bull market, but not a lot.”

The forward price-to-earnings ratio for the S&P 500 is at 17.2 versus its long-term average PE ratio of about 15, Thomson Reuters data shows.

The healthcare index .SPXHC led gains in the S&P 500, rising 0.7 percent. Shares of UnitedHealth Group Inc UNH.N, the largest U.S. health insurer, were up 3.6 percent and hit a record intraday high a day after the company issued a better-than-expected earnings forecast for the coming year. Other insurers also gained, including Aetna AET.N, up 2.8 percent.

Other major gainers among health stocks were AbbVie ABBV.N, which rose 3.6 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 23.7 points, or 0.12 percent, to 19,121.6, while the S&P 500 .SPX gained 2.94 points, or 0.13 percent, to 2,204.66.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, NY, U.S. November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 11.11 points, or 0.21 percent, to end at 5,379.92, after hitting a record intraday high.

U.S. stocks had their worst performance in nearly a month on Monday after hitting record highs last week.

Also helping to boost sentiment on Tuesday was data that showed the U.S. economy grew more quickly than initially thought in the third quarter for its best performance in two years.

But a slide in oil prices helped weigh on the S&P energy index .SPNY, which fell 1.2 percent.

Oil prices dropped about 4 percent on signs that leading oil exporters were struggling to agree on a deal to cut production ahead of an OPEC meeting on Wednesday.

Shares of Tiffany TIF.N rose 3.1 percent to $80.60 after the jewelry company reported its first rise in sales in eight quarters.

Investors will be watching data from retailers closely in the coming weeks for clues on how the holiday shopping season will turn out.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.07-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.05-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 28 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 177 new highs and 29 new lows.

About 6.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, compared with the 7.8 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Additional reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Savio D’Souza and Dan Grebler