(AP) -- Gains by health care companies helped lift U.S. stocks higher in afternoon trading Tuesday as investors sized up the latest company earnings and deal news. The gains briefly sent the Dow Jones industrial average past the 26,000-point threshold for the first time. Technology stocks also notched solid gains. Energy companies were the biggest laggard as the price of crude oil headed lower.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,790 as of 1:23 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 120 points, or 0.5 percent, to 25,923. It was up as much as 282 points earlier. The Nasdaq added 4 points, or 0.1 percent, to 7,265. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks shed 3 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,588.
THE QUOTE: "We are in the early stages of the earnings season," said Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA Research. "We got some good numbers from UnitedHealth and Citigroup, especially, and that's benefiting the financials and health care sectors today."
EARNINGS WATCH: Investors were watching for the impact of Washington's latest tax changes on U.S. companies as earnings season for the final quarter of 2017 gets into full swing. Many multinational corporations are taking one-off charges for bringing home money held abroad. But investors expect them to benefit in the long run from the decision to cut the standard tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and are bidding up their share prices.
BIG GAINER: Merck led all other stocks in the S&P 500 as part of health care sector rally. The drugmaker gained $4.02, or 6.9 percent, to $62.68.
FEELING CHIPPER: Technology stocks accounted for some of the biggest gains Tuesday, with several chipmakers moving sharply higher. Qualcomm led the pack, rising $2.89, or 4.4 percent, to $68.27.
BIG CHARGE: Citigroup rose 0.6 percent after the bank reported an $18.3 billion loss for the fourth quarter due to the new tax law. Excluding the one-time charges, Citigroup earned a profit. The stock was up 45 cents to $77.30.
HEALTHY QUARTER: UnitedHealth Group gained 2.4 percent after its said earnings more than doubled in the final quarter of 2017. The nation's largest insurer also hiked its forecast well beyond expectations, largely due to help from the federal tax overhaul. The stock picked up $5.45 to $234.09.
IN GEAR: General Motors rose 2 percent after the automaker said it expects strong sales in North America and China will sustain its profit through the rest of this year. GM also said it will take a $7 billion write-down in 2017 tied to the U.S. tax overhaul. Its shares added 86 cents to $44.93.
HIGH-VOLTAGE BUYOUT: Energizer Holdings surged 13.6 percent after the company said it will acquire the battery and lighting assets of Spectrum Brands, which includes the Varta and Rayovac battery brands. Energizer shares added $7.03 to $58.65. Spectrum gained $3.06, or 2.5 percent, to $123.54.
DEAL OR NO DEAL: Viacom slid 6.5 percent after following several reports saying the media company is not in talks to merge with CBS Corp. The tumble follows a sharp jump in Viacom shares Friday after a published report suggested that a merger might be a possibility. Viacom fell $2.18 to $31.58. CBS rose $1.04, or 1.8 percent, to $59.87.
BOND YIELDS: Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.56 percent from 2.55 percent late Friday.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 48 cents to $63.82 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 99 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $69.27 in London.
The slide in oil prices weighed on energy sector stocks. Range Resources was down 71 cents, or 4 percent, to $16.87.
CURRENCIES: The dollar edged higher after days of heavy losses. The U.S. currency was up to 110.72 yen from 110.52 yen on Monday. The euro slipped to $1.2246 from $1.2181.
THE BITCOIN TRADE: The price of bitcoin was down 17 percent to $11,301, according to the tracking site CoinDesk. Bitcoin futures on the Cboe Futures Exchange were down 19 percent to $11,280. The futures allow investors to make bets on the future price of bitcoin. The price of the digital currency, which soared last year after starting 2017 under $1,000, has been hurt amid signs of potentially increased scrutiny from governments. South Korea's top financial policymaker said Tuesday that banning trading in digital currencies was an option, adding such a move still needed to be reviewed by government ministries.
MARKETS OVERSEAS: Major stock indexes in Europe were mixed. Germany's DAX gained 0.3 percent and France's CAC 40 added 0.1 percent. London's FTSE 100 shed 0.2 percent. In Asia, Tokyo's Nikkei 225 added 1 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 1.8 percent. Seoul's Kospi rose 0.7 percent. India's Sensex was unchanged, while markets in New Zealand, Taiwan and Southeast Asia gained. Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 shed 0.5 percent.