Summary

The S&P 500 index closed slightly higher on Friday despite Apple, as worries over Washington’s latest healthcare legislation proposal eased and investors shrugged off concerns about North Korea.

Investors in the broader market were also encouraged by a rise in the Russell 2000 small-cap index, which ended with a record high close.

After a volatile day, the S&P’s healthcare sector ended 0.1 percent higher as insurance stocks regained ground after Republican Senator John McCain said he opposed his Republican peers’ latest effort to replace President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.

The S&P technology sector managed to eke out a small gain as investors had more appetite for risk even with a decline of 1 percent in Apple’s shares on muted reactions to the iPhone maker’s latest product launch.

Some investors moved to safe-haven assets such as gold, after North Korea said it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean in response to President Trump’s threat to destroy the reclusive country.

But others felt that the market would cope with the ongoing stand-off between the countries, which has been ratcheting up in recent months. “If you cry wolf enough it loses its impact in the end,” Antonelli said.

Five of the 11 major S&P sectors ended the day lower and utilities led the parade downward with a 0.7 percent loss. After falling as much as 0.5 percent, the healthcare sector ended 0.08 percent higher.

Earlier in the day concern about the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill had wreaked havoc with insurers’ stocks. UnitedHealth ended the day lower by 1.1 percent after falling as much as 3.6 percent earlier in the day.

The small telecom services index, with only four stocks, was the largest percentage gainer with a 1.4 percent rise on consolidation speculation while the energy index rose 0.5 percent as oil futures settled higher.

T-Mobile gained 1 percent after Reuters reported that the cellphone network operator was close to agreeing tentative terms on a deal to merge with Sprint, whose shares rose 6.1 percent.

The report also pushed up bigger rivals Verizon and AT&T, which could benefit from having one less competitor.

Approximately 5.26 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, as compared with the 6.03 billion share average for the past 20 trading sessions.

Fed in Quandary

Fed officials laid out competing views regarding inflation on Friday as they wrestle over whether a recent dip in the pace of price increases is trivial, or the result of global forces that could permanently throw off the Fed’s policy calculus.

The resolution of that debate will be critical to whether the Fed proceeds with an expected December rate increase and more hikes next year, or concludes that the inflation “mystery” is evidence of a change in how global prices are set.

It is also central to an issue of broad political and economic importance: how low the unemployment rate can fall before rising wages and competition for goods starts pushing price increases to uncomfortable levels.

“We are all trying to get a grip on it,” Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said of discussion within the Fed over why an unemployment rate in the low four percent range has not led to greater inflation pressure, as it would under standard theories about the “Phillips Curve” tradeoff between a tight jobs market and rising prices.

With the most recent Fed projections showing unemployment falling to 4.1 percent in coming months with inflation still below the Fed’s 2 percent target, Kaplan said he is becoming convinced other forces are at work.

It may be global supply chains, he said, or technology giving consumers more pricing power. Either way, he said, the Fed could possibly let unemployment fall further without worrying about inflation rising too fast.

The recent projections “tells you people have started to conclude we can run a lower unemployment rate without inflation,” Kaplan said. “Then the question is why. I am putting forward the structural view.”

Fed Chair Janet Yellen called the behavior of inflation a “mystery,” though she has generally said she remains convinced tight labor markets will ultimately lead to rising prices.

The Fed’s most recent projections showed a solid majority of policymakers expecting to raise rates in December.

Kansas City Fed President Esther George said the recent weak inflation readings – the Fed’s preferred measure was most recently 1.4 percent – was no reason for the Fed to back away from a continued gradual pace of rate increases.

“It is hard for me to see…any of that is related to weak economic activity,” at a time of low unemployment and still strong consumer confidence, said George, who has long argued that it was time to raise interest rates to more normal levels.

The expected gradual pace of rate increases is “appropriate…but we do have to keep moving,” she said.

Fed officials, following their regular policy meeting, indicated on Wednesday they are prepared to raise rates again in December and three times next year.