US stocks edge higher in afternoon trading; oil prices slide

U.S. stocks were slightly higher in late-afternoon trading Tuesday, on course to add to the market’s modest gains from the day before. Banks, insurers and other financial companies led the gainers. Technology stocks also helped lift the market, while health care companies lagged the most.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 3 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,507 as of 3:34 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 46 points, or 0.2 percent, to 22,377. The Nasdaq composite added 7 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,461. All three are on track to close at record highs. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks was down 1 point, or 0.1 percent, to 1,439.

THE QUOTE: “People are still, as they usually are the day before a Fed announcement, kind of in a wait-and-see mode,” said Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA Research.

THE FED: Investors have their eye on the Federal Reserve, which was holding a two-day meeting of its policymakers. The panel was expected to deliver an update on the Fed’s view of the economy Wednesday. Forecasters expect the Fed to leave interest rates unchanged and stick to plans to raise rates in December. Traders will be listening for any indications that the central bank could move sooner on a rate increase and for details on the timing for when the Fed might start shrinking its multitrillion-dollar stockpile of bonds.

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FINANCIALS RALLY: Speculation that the Fed will announce plans to unwind its balance sheet of bonds helped lift shares in banks and other financial companies. Such a move by the Fed would likely push long-term interest rates up. Banks benefit from higher rates, which can translate into higher profits from lending money. U.S. Bancorp added 85 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $53.23.

STORM WEATHERED: Progressive added 2.7 percent after the insurer reported lower-than-expected losses from Hurricane Harvey. The company is the second insurer to report losses related to the hurricane, which battered Texas and Louisiana last month, that were far less than financial analysts expected. Progressive shares rose $1.24 to $47.56. Traders also bid up shares in other insurers. Allstate gained 64 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $91.12.

TECH RISING: Technology stocks were also among the big gainers. NetApp climbed $1.03, or 2.5 percent, to $41.67.

COMBO MEAL: Bob Evans Farms jumped 6.4 percent after the…

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