Tech Leads Stocks Higher, Insurers Sink

NEW YORK (AP) -- A strong forecast from PC and printer maker HP is helping technology companies Friday as U.S. stock indexes approach record highs again. Retailers are also up after the Commerce Department said Americans shopped more in September. Health insurers and hospital operators are skidding after President Donald Trump said he will stop government payments to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 5 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,556 as of 1 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 43 points, or 0.2 percent, to 22,884. The Nasdaq composite gained 22 points, or 0.3 percent, to 6,613. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks remained at 1,505.

HEALTH SCARE: The White House said late Thursday that it is stopping subsidy payments to insurers under the 2010 health care law. Those payments help reduce copays and deductibles for people with lower incomes. The move could reduce payments to hospitals and raise costs for insurers. Adding to the uncertainty, the sign-up period for subsidized private insurance starts Nov. 1.

Medicaid program administrator Centene lost $4.27, or 4.6 percent, to $89.41 and insurer Anthem gave up $4.63, or 2.4 percent, to $185.11. Hospital operator Tenet dropped 49 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $13.37 and ambulatory surgery center operator Envision Healthcare fell 60 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $41.05.

TECH GAINS: HP forecast an adjusted profit of $1.74 to $1.84 a share in its next fiscal year, which is better than Wall Street expected, and also said it will return at least 50 percent of its free cash flow to shareholders by paying dividends or buying back stock.

HP stock gained $1.49, or 7.3 percent, to $21.89. Elsewhere, Facebook rose $1.97, or 1.1 percent, to $174.52 and Apple added 90 cents to $156.90.

SHOPPING DIDN'T DROP: The Commerce Department said retail sales grew 1.6 percent in September after a small decline in August. Much of the gain came from car and gasoline sales: sales of cars jumped as people living in the Southeast and Gulf Coast replaced vehicles that were destroyed by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, while gas prices increased due to temporary shortages in those areas. But other sales also grew by a solid amount.

Tiffany jumped $2.39, or 2.6 percent, to $94.48 and home improvement retailer Lowe's rose 59 cents to $82.16. Other consumer-focused companies rose as well. Travel website Expedia gained $2.70, or 1.8 percent, to $150.68 and streaming video company Netflix added $3.20, or 1.6 percent, to $199.07.

METALS CLIMB: Materials companies rose with the prices of gold and silver. Steel prices climbed after Bloomberg News reported that China imported a record amount of iron ore in September. That sent prices higher. U.S. Steel climbed $1.88, or 7.4 percent, to $27.44 and AK Steel added 30 cents, or 5.5 percent, to $5.79.

PG&E WOES: Utility PG&E continued to tumble as investors wondered if the company will face stiff fines connected to the California wildfires. Officials said Thursday they are investigating the possibility that downed power lines or other faulty equipment touched off the fires. The stock dropped 6.7 percent Thursday and fell another $5.65, or 8.8 percent, to $58.85 on Friday.

Citi Investment Research analyst Praful Mehta said the company lost $2.2 billion in value Thursday, and even if PG&E were found responsible and grossly negligent for the fires, it probably wouldn't be fined much more than that.

The fires have killed 31 people and destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses since Sunday, and they are expected to become the deadliest and most destructive in California history.

GRAB A TWINKIE FOR THE ROAD: Hostess Brands slumped after President and CEO Bill Toler said he will resign by March 1. He will remain a member of the company's board. Another top executive, Chief Operating Officer Stuart Wilcox, left the company in August. The stock gave up $1.34, or 10 percent, to $12.09.

OIL: Energy companies rose along with oil prices. Benchmark U.S. crude oil picked up 88 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $51.48 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 98 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $57.23 a barrel in London.

BONDS: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note declined to 2.29 percent from 2.32 percent.

UN-WELLS: Wells Fargo fell $1.91, or 3.5 percent, to $53.31. The bank's third-quarter results came up far short of analyst estimates as its legal expenses rose.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 111.90 yen from 112.22 yen. The euro rose to $1.1840 from $1.1836.

OVERSEAS: The DAX in Germany rose 0.1 percent while the FTSE 100 index in Britain lost 0.3 percent. The French CAC 40 fell 0.2 percent. Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1 while South Korea's Kospi lost 0.1 percent. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng added 0.1 percent.