US equity benchmarks were extending gains on Wednesday with the technology and energy sectors logging some of the biggest gains against a backdrop of mergers and acquisition news ahead of the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve.
Some seven of the 11 key sectors making up the Standard & Poor's 500 Index were higher at the time of writing, with the technology sector up by 0.95%, energy up by 0.76%, health care up by 0.62% and consumer discretionary 0.47% higher. Trading optimism was buoyed by better-than-expected results for indexes measuring manufacturing and construction activity and oil prices trading higher amid reports of anti-government protests in Iran.
Construction spending in November rose by 0.8% in November, according to data published by the Commerce Department, surpassing economists' forecasts for a jump of 0.6% and slightly lower than the 0.9% growth rate which was registered in October and which was partly attributed to increased spending following the hurricanes.
A closely-watched gauge measuring growth in the manufacturing sector also beat expectations. The Institute of Supply Management's Manufacturing Index climbed to 59.7 in December, up from 58.2 in the prior month and ahead of economists' forecasts for a reading of 58.1.
Investors were also looking ahead to the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's December rate-setting meeting. The minutes, due to be published at 2pm ET, are likely to be scoured for any indications as to the central bank's likely plans for interest rate hikes this year.
In equity news, shares in Scana ( SCG ) were leading the gainers on the S&P 500 Index, up by 23.7% at the time of writing after the electricity and natural gas company said that it had agreed to be acquired by energy utility Dominion Energy ( D ) in a stock-for-stock merger transaction worth approximately $14.6 billion including debt. Advanced Micro Devices ( AMD ) was also among the biggest gainers on the benchmark, up by 6.7% and Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance's ( ULTA ) was 5.7% higher as its average rating among analysts was registered as a buy, with an average price target of $257.
Oil prices were extending gains amid reports of ongoing anti-government protests in Iran and ahead of key US inventory projections due to be released by the American Petroleum Institute later in the day. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures were 1.7% higher at $61.37 per barrel at the time of writing while Brent crude, the international gauge, was up by 1.3% at $67.44 per barrel.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 0.14% higher, the Standard & Poor's 500 was up by 0.41% and the Nasdaq was 0.64% higher at the time of writing.
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