US stocks set records as Irma and North Korea worries fade

US stocks rallied to record highs as Hurricane Irma weakened without causing as much damage as many had feared, and a North Korean holiday passed without new missile launches.

US stocks set records as Irma and North Korea worries fade

US stocks rallied to record highs as Hurricane Irma weakened without causing as much damage as many had feared, and a North Korean holiday passed without new missile launches.

Investors were relieved as Irma, which is still deluging Florida and Georgia, did not appear to be as bad as it did in projections last week.

Insurance companies jumped, especially smaller ones that do a lot of business in Florida. So did travel companies. Home improvement retailers fell. Their stocks had climbed recently as investors expected post-storm repairs to boost their business.

Tensions between the US and North Korea have been on investors' minds recently, and on Monday global markets advanced as the situation did not get any worse. In the US, bond prices fell, sending yields higher. That helped bank stocks because rising yields mean banks can charge higher interest rates on loans.

"This is what happens when the market sells off in the face of what is really an awfully good fundamental environment," said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist for the Leuthold Group. He said investors are once again focused on strong economic growth in the US and many other regions.

And while a gridlocked federal government has not done much to stimulate the economy, Mr Paulsen said the weakening dollar and falling interest rates could give US businesses, especially technology companies, a big boost.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index made its biggest gain since late April as it rose 26.68 points, or 1.1%, to finish at a record high of 2,488.11. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 259.58 points, or 1.2%, to 22,057.37. The Nasdaq composite jumped 72.07 points, or 1.1%, to 6,432.26, three points below the record closing high it set on September 1. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks added 15.40 points, or 1.1%, to 1,414.83.

That wiped out a month of losses linked to international tensions as well as worries about the lingering effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which are expected to slow the US economy over the next few months.

Irma weakened shortly before it came ashore on Sunday. It caused severe flooding and knocked out power to millions. While the damage is still being assessed, insurers climbed on Monday as investors anticipate they will not have to pay out as much in claims as it looked like they would just a few days ago.

HCI Group jumped 5.38 dollars, or 17.5%, to 36.15 dollars while Heritage Insurance gained 2.02 dollars, or 21.6%, to 11.39 dollars. Larger insurers also rallied. Reinsurance company XL Group advanced 1.94 dollars, or 5%, to 40.55 dollars and Travellers gained 2.80 dollars, or 2.3%, to 122.56 dollars.

Investors also expected that travel-related companies will not take such a big hit from the storm.

Royal Caribbean Cruises jumped 4.24 dollars, or 3.6%, to 121.69 dollars and American Airlines gained 2.26 dollars, or 5.2%, to 45.86 dollars. Travel booking site Priceline rose 30.29 dollars, or 1.6%, to 1,868.86 dollars.

Investors' sense of relief also pushed orange juice futures a little lower. Futures had risen to 1.54 dollars a pound on Friday from 1.30 dollars at the end of August and slipped to 1.51 dollars a pound on Monday.

North Koreans observed the 69th anniversary of the country's founding, but did not test another intercontinental ballistic missile, as South Korea's government had warned it might.

Bond prices sank. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.13% from 2.05%. Banks rose, as JPMorgan Chase gained 1.37 dollars, or 1.5%, to 89.79 dollars and Fifth Third Bancorp added 60 cents, or 2.4%, to 25.70 dollars.

In another sign investors were willing to take more risks, gold lost 15.50 dollars, or 1.1%, to 1,335.70 dollars an ounce. Silver fell 22 cents, or 1.2%, to 17.90 dollars an ounce.

Technology companies helped lead the way. Apple, which will unveil its newest iPhone on Tuesday, rose 2.30 dollars, or 1.4%, to 160.93 dollars and Facebook rose 2.35 dollars, or 1.4%, to 173.30 dollars. Microsoft added 66 cents to 74.65 dollars and Mastercard rose 4.36 dollars, or 3.2%, to 141.58 dollars.

Home improvement retailers fell. They climbed last week after investors anticipated their business could pick up as homeowners were affected by the storm. Home Depot dropped 1.29 dollars to 158.37 dollars and Lowe's declined 1.06 dollars, or 1.3%, to 77.50 dollars.

Benchmark US crude rose 59 cents, or 1.2%, to 48.07 dollars a barrel in New York while Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 6 cents to 53.84 dollars a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline lost 1 cent to 1.63 dollars a gallon. Heating oil fell 2 cents to 1.74 dollars a gallon. Natural gas rose 6 cents to 2.95 dollars per 1,000 cubic feet.

In other commodities trading, copper added 2 cents to 3.07 dollars a pound.

The dollar rose to 109.34 yen from 107.79 yen late on Friday. The euro slid to 1.1962 dollars from 1.12028 dollars.

- AP

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