UnitedHealth, Merck Lift the Dow Monday

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April 16, 2018: Markets opened higher for a third straight session Monday following a lowering of tensions related to Syria and added buoyancy over an earnings season that is just getting underway. Analysts at FactSet say earnings at S&P 500 companies are expected to post 17.3% year-over-year earnings growth in the first quarter.

WTI crude oil for May delivery settled at $666.22 a barrel, down 1.7% for the day. The U.S. EIA forecast another month of big growth in production in May. June gold added about 0.2% on the day to settle at $1,350.70. Equities were headed for a higher close about 10 minutes before the bell as the Dow traded up 1.02% for the day, the S&P 500 traded up 0.91%, and the Nasdaq Composite traded up 0.78%.

Bitcoin futures (XBTJ8) for April delivery traded at $8,020, down about 0.9% on the CBOE after opening at $8,250 this morning. The digital currency’s trading range for the day was $7,890 to $8,440.

The Dow stock posting the largest daily percentage gain ahead of the close Monday was UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE: UNH) which traded up 3.19% at $231.43. The stock’s 52-week range is $164.96 to $250.79. Volume was about 20% lower than the daily average of around 4 million shares. The company had no specific news, but is set to report earnings before markets open Tuesday morning.

Merck & Co Inc. (NYSE: MRK) traded up 2.60% at $58.65. The stock’s 52-week range is $52.83 to $66.41. Volume was about 45% above the daily average of around 13.3 million. The company’s lung cancer drug is distancing itself from contenders.

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) traded up 1.57% at $48.41 in a 52-week range of $42.80 to $54.77. Volume of about 7 million shares was about 55% below the daily average. The company has upped its stake in Helios & Matheson (owners of MoviePass) to 9.3%.

Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) traded up 1.50% at $152.50. The stock’s 52-week range is $92.98 to $173.24. Volume was about 60% below the daily average of around 6.3 million. The company had no specific news Monday.

Of the Dow stocks, 27 are on track to close higher Monday and just 3 are set to close lower.