Stock market rises as investors await Comey hearing; oil prices sink

U.S. stocks closed slightly higher Wednesday as the financial sector helped to cap a sharp drop in energy shares, ahead of potentially market moving events on Thursday, including the U.K. election and former FBI director James Comey Senate testimony.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, +0.18%

rose 37.46 points, or 0.2%, to close at 21,173.69, with shares of Nike Inc.

NKE, +1.43%

 UnitedHealth Group Inc.

UNH, +1.32%

 and American Express Co.

AXP, +1.22%

 leading gainers and shares of Coca-Cola Co.

KO, -1.02%

and Caterpillar Inc.

CAT, -0.99%

 the big decliners.

The SP 500 index

SPX, +0.16%

rose 3.81 points, or 0.2%, to close at 2,433.14, with eight out of the index’s 11 main sectors finishing higher. Financials and real estate led gainers finishing up 0.8 and 0.5%, respectively. Energy shares

XLE, -1.41%

 were sharply lower, falling 1.5% after data from the Energy Information Administration showed crude-oil stockpiles unexpectedly rose in the latest week, a negative sign for supply at a time when demand remains tepid. Chevron Corp.

CVX, -0.38%

 fell 0.4% while Marathon Oil Corp.

MRO, -5.20%

 was off 5.2%, and shares of Helmerich Payne Inc.

HP, -6.04%

 dropped 6%.

The Nasdaq Composite Index

COMP, +0.36%

advanced 22.32 points, or 0.4%, to close at 6,297.38.

Investors are focused on the so-called “Super Thursday” trio events: testimony on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election from former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, the U.K. general election and a European Central Bank meeting. Stocks, which had been trading in negative territory on the session, returned to gains for the day following the release of Comey’s prepared testimony before the Senate.

Preceding Comey’s testimony, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Wednesday refused to answer senators on whether President Donald Trump had asked them to intervene in a probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“What we have tomorrow and next week is what is driving everything right now,” said Mark Kepner, managing director of sales and trading at Themis Trading. “Combine that with the Fed meeting next week and that’s a lot of uncertainty for the market.” The Federal Reserve is slated to hold its two-day policy meeting next week, with an updated policy statement to be released June 14.

But the market is showing resilience, especially with the big drop in oil prices, he said. “The market’s been able to hold off on a big selloff despite all of that,” Kepner said.

Adding to the mix, stocks pulled back from modest gains Wednesday around the same time that SP Global Ratings downgraded its sovereign rating of Qatar’s debt and unsubstantiated reports of another North Korea missile launch, only to recover later.

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“No one wants to make big moves ahead of these events. And since we don’t even have much economic data to trade off of, trading should be pretty quiet. We’ll just be floating around,” said Brent Schutte, chief investment strategist at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management.

Schutte said although Thursday’s events could lead to elevated volatility in the short-term, they were unlikely to markedly change the tone on Wall Street. “It doesn’t appear that a huge amount of new information will come out, so while these factors could move us in the short term, they won’t matter over longer-time horizons,” he said.

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Geopolitics and economy: Consumer credit for April slowed it is smallest increase in almost six years for an annual growth rate of 2.6%.

One focus is the run-up to the U.K. general election. While voters head to the polls Thursday, the outcome will likely not be known until Friday morning London time.

Opinion polls mostly indicate a victory for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party, but there are signs it could be a neck-and-neck race with the opposition Labour Party. An unexpected result could trigger volatility across Europe, spilling over to U.S. markets.

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No change in monetary policy is expected from the ECB meeting, but President Mario Draghi’s comments will be scrutinized for signs the central bank is preparing to wind down its ultraloose monetary policy. The euro

EURUSD, -0.0267%

 weakened on a report that the ECB may be ready to cut its inflation forecast through 2019.

Stock movers: Navistar International Corp.’s

NAV, -0.97%

 stock declined 1% after the truck and diesel engines maker swung to a wider-than-expected fiscal second-quarter loss.

Jack Daniel’s maker Brown-Forman Corp.

BF.B, -3.10%

 fell 3.1% after it reported earnings and sales that both missed expectations.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

AMD, +2.91%

 shares rose 2.9% for a nearly 14% gain on the week on positive comments from Apple Inc.

AAPL, +0.60%

 and demand from cryptocurrency miners for the company’s graphics cards.

Pandora Inc.

P, -3.09%

 shares dropped 3.1% as investors speculate whether the internet radio company is an acquisition target.

G-III Apparel Group Inc.

GIII, +6.89%

 shares rose 6.9% a day after they rallied on a narrower-than-expected loss and a raised outlook.

Other markets: European stocks

SXXP, -0.06%

 ended in lower, with the FTSE 100

UKX, -0.62%

 finishing at a two-week low, and the German DAX 30

DAX, -0.14%

 index sinking as well. In Asia

ADOW, -0.10%

Chinese stocks

SHCOMP, +0.38%

rose 1.2%, bucking a retreat across most other indexes.

Oil prices

CLN7, +0.59%

 turned sharply lower, falling 5.1% to settle at $45.72 a barrel, after U.S. supply data from the Energy Information Administration showed a rise of crude-oil inventories by 3.3 million barrels, greater than expected. Gold prices

GCQ7, -0.29%

 settled down 0.3% at $1,293.20 an ounce, and the dollar

DXY, +0.00%

 was up slightly.

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