Trump’s call for more gun regulation boosts firearm stocks

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Shares of gunmakers American Outdoor Brands and Sturm Ruger & Company rallied on Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump advocated tightening background checks for guns in response to last week’s high school massacre in Florida.

The Republican president’s tweets and comments were seen as increasing the possibility of greater curbs on gun ownership, fueling expectation that people might seek to stock up on guns in advance of any changes.

Both of those sentiments had dipped since Trump was elected in November 2016 – illustrating a paradox under which a president viewed as more favorable to gun ownership can depress gun sales and shares in gunmakers.

“What Trump has been saying is a complete surprise,” said Aegis Capital analyst Rommel Dionisio, who covers firearms makers. “The prevailing wisdom for Republican presidents is not to be pro-gun control.”

Under Democratic President Barack Obama, firearm sales hit record levels as people stocked up, thinking the government might tighten gun control laws. Mass shootings that took place during Obama’s eight years in office from 2009 bolstered that expectation even more, often sending shares of gunmakers surging in the immediate aftermath of such events. (http://reut.rs/2EIW0RP)

Sales and stock prices of firearms makers slumped after Trump’s unexpected election victory was seen as reducing prospects for curbs on gun ownership. Sturm Ruger’s stock has fallen 22 percent since the 2016 election, and American Outdoor Brands has lost 63 percent of its value.

But tweets and comments by Trump on Wednesday and Thursday that he supported raising the age limit for purchases of some kinds of guns, as well as other measures, turned up the heat on the gun control debate, and boosted gunmakers’ shares.

Sturm Ruger rose 3.6 percent, while American Outdoor Brands jumped as much as 7.9 percent before ending with an increase of 0.6 percent.

Nevertheless, Trump took a pro-gun stance in advocating arming some schoolteachers to prevent school shootings. Also fueling the gun control debate, National Rifle Association chief executive Wayne LaPierre in a speech on Thursday described control advocates as elites aiming to “eradicate all personal freedoms.”

Reflecting the gun industry slump under Trump, Sturm Ruger reported a 27 percent fall in revenue for the December quarter on Wednesday.

Ruger laid off 50 workers in January, and in its quarterly report it said it was slashing its capital expenditures plan for 2018 by more than half, suggesting the Southport, Connecticut, company expects its business to remain difficult.

Seventeen students and staff members were killed in the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a massacre that has fueled unprecedented youth-led protests in cities across the country. Many of the teens and their parents are calling for greater gun control.

(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)

Russian curling medalist guilty of doping violation, says CAS

PYEONGCHANG/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Olympic curler Alexander Krushelnitsky has been found guilty of an anti-doping violation after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Thursday.

CAS said the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) mixed doubles curling team, who won bronze at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, had been disqualified from the competition over the violation.

Krushelnitsky, who won the medal with his wife, had accepted a provisional suspension beyond the period of the Games, CAS said, adding that the athlete had “reserved his rights to seek the elimination or reduction of any period of ineligibility” following the Games.

The announcement came hours after CAS canceled the hearing into the case at the request of the International Olympic Committee, the World Curling Federation and Krushelnitsky himself.

Dmitry Svishchev, president of Russia’s curling federation, said he hoped giving up the medal was a temporary measure.

“Unfortunately we have to part with the Olympic bronze medal,” he said in a statement on the federation’s website. “I really hope and believe that this is temporary.”

The doping case has come at a delicate time for Russia, which has been accused of running a state-backed, systematic doping program for years, an allegation Moscow denies.

Russians are competing at Pyeongchang as neutral athletes, and Russia had been hoping that a clean record at the Games would enable it to return to full Olympic status.

Krushelnitsky and his wife Anastasia Bryzgalova have agreed to surrender their medals, according to the Russian curling federation.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said on Wednesday he hoped the Pyeongchang doping case would not impact the IOC’s deliberations on whether to let Russia regain full Olympic status.

The IOC has said it might allow the Russians to march with the country’s flag and in national uniform at the closing ceremony of the Games on Sunday, provided they have complied with its code of conduct on neutrality.

The code requires compliance with IOC anti-doping rules.

The Russian Olympic delegation has said it could not explain how meldonium had ended up in Krushelnitsky’s body and pledged to investigate.

(Editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford)

Fed’s Kaplan says three rate hikes in 2018 ‘reasonable’

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan said on Thursday that three U.S. interest-rate increases in 2018 is a “reasonable” base case, pushing back against the notion, floated by some on Wall Street, that more rate hikes may be needed to manage a potential rise in inflation.

With the Fed likely to overshoot on its goal of full employment, and with progress toward the Fed’s 2-percent inflation goal expected this year, the U.S. central bank should move patiently, gradually and deliberately to raise rates, Kaplan told the Vancouver Board of Trade.

Neither recent stock-market volatility, nor recent economic data, has changed that outlook, Kaplan said, adding that he is watching market swings to make sure they do not create tighter financial conditions that could slow economic growth.

So far, though, he has not seen that.

“It is wise then to take back some of this accommodation, some of this stimulus,” he said. The recent $1.5 trillion Trump tax cut may deliver “too much of a good thing” in terms of fiscal stimulus to an economy already far along in the business cycle, he said.

And while the U.S. economy will earn a grade of “B+” or “A-” this year in his view, it will get lower marks next year as the short-term boost from the fiscal stimulus fades, leaving the U.S. with a higher level of debt to gross domestic product (GDP).

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; editing by Diane Craft)

Three executions planned Thursday in three U.S. States

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A trio of inmates are scheduled to be executed on Thursday, one each in Alabama, Florida and Texas, raising the possibility that U.S. prison authorities will carry out three death sentences on the same day for the first time since 2010.

The circumstances behind each case could halt any of the executions, including the one in Texas, where the convict received an unprecedented clemency recommendation. The state has conducted all three of this year’s U.S. executions.

In Florida, questions were raised about holding an execution based on a majority, not unanimous, jury decision. In Alabama, lawyers have said the death row inmate is too ill to be executed.

On Tuesday, the Texas parole board in a unanimous decision recommended clemency for Thomas Whitaker, 38, based on his father’s request.

The younger Whitaker was convicted of masterminding a 2003 plot against his family in which his mother Tricia, 51, and brother Kevin, 19, were killed. His father, Kent, was shot in the chest and survived.

A devout Christian and retired executive, Kent Whitaker said he had forgiven his son and that his family did not want him to be executed. In a clemency petition, the father said if the death penalty were implemented, it would make his pain worse.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott has the final say. A few hours ahead of the execution, scheduled for 6 p.m. (0000 GMT), he had not yet announced if he planned to commute the sentence to life in prison.

Thomas Whitaker has been moved to a holding cell near the state’s death chamber in Huntsville and his father plans to witness the execution if it goes forward, family lawyer Keith Hampton said.

Alabama plans to execute Doyle Hamm, 61, at 6 p.m. (0000 GMT) for the 1987 murder of motel clerk Patrick Cunningham.

Hamm’s lawyers have said he has terminal cancer, adding that years of intravenous drug use and untreated lymphoma had made his veins unstable for a lethal injection.

A court-appointed doctor examined Hamm on Feb. 15 and found he had usable veins, according to court filings.

Florida plans to execute Eric Branch, 47, for the 1993 murder of University of West Florida student Susan Morris.

Lawyers for Branch appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, citing arguments including that the court previously blocked a Florida provision that allows executions for a non-unanimous jury decision and should do so again in this case.

The last time three executions were held on the same day was in January 2010 in Louisiana, Ohio and Texas, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by David Beasley in Atlanta and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)

Florida governor vows aggressive probe of Irma nursing home deaths

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is pictured in Hollywood, Florida, U.S., September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Andrew Innerarity and Ricardo Ortiz

HOLLYWOOD, Fla./SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Florida Governor Rick Scott vowed on Wednesday that the state would aggressively investigate how six people died at a nursing home that lost power when Hurricane Irma rampaged through the region, as millions coped with another day without electricity.

The death toll from the storm approached 80 as officials continued to assess the damage after Irma powered through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record and slammed into the Florida Keys archipelago with sustained winds of up to 130 miles per hour (215 km per hour).

Irma killed at least 36 people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, according to officials. Some 4.2 million homes and businesses, or about 9 million people, were without power on Wednesday in Florida and nearby states.

Police opened a criminal investigation at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, north of Miami, where three elderly residents were found dead at the facility and three later died at a nearby hospital, officials said.

“I am going to work to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” Scott said in a statement. “This situation is unfathomable. Every facility that is charged with caring for patients must take every action and precaution to keep their patients safe.”

More than 100 patients at the nursing home were evacuated on Wednesday along with 18 patients from a nearby facility that was cleared due to the criminal investigation, Hollywood officials said.

“Most of the patients have been treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related issues,” Randy Katz, a spokesman for Memorial Regional Hospital, told reporters. Memorial Regional is located across the street from the nursing home.

Police were first called to the facility at about 4:30 a.m. but did not arrive until after 6 a.m., officials said.

The center had been without air conditioning, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief told reporters on Wednesday.

“The building has been sealed off and we are conducting a criminal investigation inside,” Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez told reporters on Wednesday. “It was very hot on the second floor.”

Florida Power & Light said it had provided power to some parts of the Hollywood nursing home but that the facility was not on a county top tier list for emergency power restoration.

NEW DAMAGE ESTIMATES

Irma caused about $25 billion in insured losses, including $18 billion in the United States and $7 billion in the Caribbean, catastrophe modeler Karen Clark & Co estimated on Wednesday.

The Florida Keys were particularly hard hit, with federal officials saying that 25 percent of homes were destroyed and 65 percent suffered major damage when Irma barreled ashore on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane.

Most residents had left by then and police have barred re-entry to most of the Keys to allow more time to restore electricity and medical service and bring water, food and fuel.

“I don’t have a house. I don’t have a job. I have nothing,” said Mercedes Lopez, 50, whose family fled north from the Keys town of Marathon on Friday and rode out the storm at an Orlando hotel, only to learn their home was destroyed, along with the gasoline station where Lopez worked.

President Donald Trump is due to visit the region on Thursday.

‘EVERYTHING IS GONE’

Irma wreaked total devastation in parts of the Caribbean, where at least 43 people have died.

People who fled their homes in hard-hit islands including St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands that were all but cut off from the world for days arrived in San Juan late Tuesday.

Michael Beason, 65, of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said he lost everything.

“My house, my business, both my vehicles, everything is gone,” said Beason, who was stopping in San Juan before continuing to Boston to seek refuge with his wife’s brother.

“But we have life. We rode out that horrible storm in a shower that I had reinforced after Hurricane Marilyn,” Beason added. “I told the man (who installed the shower), I told him, ‘If the hurricane takes the rest of my house, I want this shower sticking up out of that slab like the last tooth in the mouth of a bum. And sure enough that’s what’s left.”

Irma hit the United States about two weeks after Hurricane Harvey plowed into Houston, killing about 60 and causing some $180 billion in damage, mostly from flooding.

U.N. Security Council to meet after North Korea fires another missile over Japan

People watch a television broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing a missile that flew over Japan's northern Hokkaido far out into the Pacific Ocean, in Seoul, South Korea, September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Jack Kim and Kaori Kaneko

SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea fired a missile over Japan and far out into the Pacific Ocean on Friday for the second time in under a month, again challenging the United States and other world powers to rein in Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs.

Amid international condemnations of the test, the U.N. Security Council was to meet later in the day to discuss the launch at the request of the United States and Japan, diplomats said.

The missile flew over Hokkaido in the north and landed in the Pacific about 2,000 km (1,240 miles) to the east, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

It traveled about 3,700 km (2,300 miles) in total, according to South Korea‘s military – far enough to reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, which the North has threatened before.

“The range of this test was significant since North Korea demonstrated that it could reach Guam with this missile,” the Union of Concerned Scientists advocacy group said in a statement.

But it said the accuracy of the missile, still at an early stage of development, was low.

North Korea has launched dozens of missiles under leader Kim Jong Un as it accelerates a weapons program designed to give it the ability to target the United States with a powerful, nuclear-tipped missile.

Two tests in July were for long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching at least parts of the U.S. mainland. North Korea also staged its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb test earlier this month.

Warning announcements about the most recent missile blared around 7 a.m. (2200 GMT Thursday) in parts of northern Japan, while many residents received alerts on their mobile phones or saw warnings on TV telling them to seek refuge.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said the launch “put millions of Japanese into duck and cover”, although people in northern Japan seemed calm and went about business as normal.

The U.S. military said soon after the launch it had detected a single intermediate range ballistic missile but the missile did not pose a threat to North America or Guam, which lies 3,400 km (2,110 miles) from North Korea.

The missile reached an altitude of about 770 km (480 miles) and flew for about 19 minutes, according to South Korea‘s military.

U.S. SEEKS ‘NEW MEASURES’

U.S. officials repeated Washington’s “ironclad” commitments to the defense of its allies. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for “new measures” against North Korea and said the “continued provocations only deepen North Korea‘s diplomatic and economic isolation”.

U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood said Washington wanted to exhaust every diplomatic option on North Korea‘s nuclear and missile programs and to see loopholes in sanctions against North Korean closed. Speaking in Geneva, he said the United States was not taking the option of war or a military strike off the table.

A poll by Gallup Analytics suggested a majority of Americans appeared ready to support military action against North Korea, at least as a last resort. Some 58 percent said they would favor taking military action if economic and diplomatic efforts failed to achieve U.S. goals. Gallup said this was up from 47 percent in favor the last time the group asked this, in 2003.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said dialogue with the North was impossible at this point. He ordered officials to analyze and prepare for possible new North Korean threats, including electromagnetic pulse and biochemical attacks, a spokesman said.

Russia said the missile test was part of a series of unacceptable provocations and that the U.N. Security Council was united in believing such launches should not be taking place.

President Vladimir Putin discussed the launch in a phone call with French President Emanuel Macron and agreed on the need for a diplomatic solution, including through resuming direct talks on North Korea, the Kremlin said in a statement.

On global markets, shares and other risk assets barely moved and gold fell on Friday as traders paid little attention to the latest missile test, shifting their focus to where and when interest rates will go up.

The Security Council was to meet at 3 p.m. ET (1900 GMT), diplomats said, just days after its 15 members unanimously stepped up sanctions against North Korea over its Sept. 3 nuclear test.

Those sanctions imposed a ban on North Korea‘s textile exports and capped its imports of crude oil.

Last month, North Korea fired an intermediate range missile from a similar area near the capital Pyongyang that also flew over Hokkaido into the ocean and said more would follow.

“The first time was unexpected, but I think people are getting used to this as the new normal,” said Andrew Kaz, who teaches English in Kushiro City in Hokkaido. “The most it seemed to disrupt was my coffee.”

South Korea said it had fired a missile test into the sea to coincide with North Korea‘s launch and the presidential Blue House has called an urgent National Security Council meeting. Japan also convened a National Security Council meeting.

Pyongyang had threatened a day earlier to sink Japan and reduce the United States to “ashes and darkness” for supporting the U.N. Security Council’s latest resolution and sanctions.

‘DANGEROUS, RECKLESS’

The North accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.

U.S. President Donald Trump had been briefed on the latest launch, the White House said.

Trump has vowed that North Korea will never be allowed to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile, but has also asked China to do more to rein in its neighbor. China in turn favors an international response to the problem.

“China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own,” Tillerson said.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, denied that China held the key to easing tension on the peninsula and said that duty lay with the parties directly involved.

“Any attempt to wash their hands of the issue is irresponsible and unhelpful for its resolution,” she said, reiterating China’s position that sanctions are only effective if paired with talks.

Oil holds near five-month high in most bullish week since July

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Brent oil prices held near five-month highs on Friday, and were on track for the biggest weekly gain since late July, on forecasts for rising demand and the gradual restart of U.S. oil refineries.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries this week forecast higher demand for its oil in 2018 and pointed to signs of a tighter global market, indicating its deal with non-OPEC states to cut output is helping tackle a glut.

That was followed by a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) saying the glut was shrinking thanks to strong European and U.S. demand, as well as production declines in OPEC and non-OPEC countries.

“This boost to the market is attracting fresh speculative length,” said Gene McGillian, director of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford.

To sustain current high prices, continued strength in demand is needed, he said, noting that a weak fourth quarter in the U.S. could prompt traders to back off of long positions.

Brent crude <LCOc1> was down 3 cents at $55.45 a barrel by 12:31 p.m. EDT (1731 GMT), in a volatile session that saw it stretch from an intraday low of $54.86 to a high of $55.85 a barrel.

The benchmark was on track for its third straight weekly gain, rising 3.1 percent so far, which would be the highest weekly rise since the end of July.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude <CLc1> was down 17 cents at $49.73 a barrel. The contract looked set for a 5 percent weekly gain, also its strongest in nearly two months.

“Prices have now advanced for the last two weeks off increased demand forecasts from both OPEC and the IEA combined with the near-term demand uplift expected as U.S. oil refineries seek to restart operations post-Hurricane Harvey,” analysts at Panmure Gordon said.

Oil investors eyed further impact from increasing crude demand from U.S. oil refineries restarting after hurricane outages.

On Wednesday, 13 of 20 affected U.S. refineries were at or near normal operating rates and another five were restarting or ramping up, according to IHS Markit. The largest U.S. refinery, Motiva Enterprises plant in Port Arthur, Texas, was at half its full capacity, the company said Wednesday.

Analysts at HSBC said that despite the U.S. refinery outages, 2017 was set to be an “extremely strong year” for oil demand growth, a key factor underpinning a rise in prices.

“We remain convinced of longer-term upside to crude prices. With the lack of new major project sanctions, we expect conventional non-OPEC supply to start declining post-2018,” they said.

They maintained their 2018 and 2019 Brent price assumptions at $65 and $70 a barrel, respectively.

Data on this week’s U.S. oil rig count, an early indicator of future output, was due at about 1 p.m. (1700 GMT). U.S. energy firms last week cut oil rigs for a third time in the past four weeks as a 14-month drilling recovery stalled, General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes energy services firm said.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo and Karolin Schaps in Amsterdam; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Susan Fenton)

Bitcoin bounces 20 percent after dipping below $3,000

By Jemima Kelly

LONDON (Reuters) – Bitcoin bounced by more than 20 percent in the space of just four hours on Friday, having skidded below $3,000 earlier as Chinese authorities ordered Beijing-based cryptocurrency exchanges to stop trading.

After a vertiginous climb to record highs close to $5,000 earlier this month, bitcoin had plunged almost 40 percent in the 12 following days, with the sell-off driven in large part by fears of China cracking down on the market as well as a warning from JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon that bitcoin was a “fraud”.

The rapidity of the fall – matched by losses across the hundreds of other cryptocurrencies that now rival bitcoin – had driven fears that a giant crypto-bubble was finally bursting. Bitcoin looked likely to record its worst week since 2013.

But after seven consecutive days of falls, bitcoin was up around 13 percent on the day by 1538 GMT at $3,637 on the U.S. Bitstamp exchange <BTC=BTSP>, around 22 percent up from its earlier low and leaving it just 13 percent down on the week.

Chinese exchanges were told by authorities to immediately notify users of their closure, and to stop allowing new user registrations as of Friday, according to a government notice.

But although Chinese exchanges used to dominate bitcoin trading – according to their reports – because of the fact that they did not charge fees, volumes have plunged since January, when Chinese authorities made fees mandatory.

That, industry experts said, means that although China is still important, the crackdown there would probably not be enough to cripple bitcoin, unless it was followed by exchange shut-downs in other parts of the globe.

“Chinese volumes account for less than 10 percent of global volume – they are no big deal,” said Charles Hayter, founder of cryptocurrency analysis website Cryptocompare.

Beijing-based platforms OkCoin and Huobi, which are among China’s biggest exchanges, said on Friday that they planned to stop yuan-based trading by Oct. 31, confirming earlier reports.

“Waiting for the axe to fall is worse than the actual event; leaked documents seem to be clearing up uncertainty,” said Hayter. “But also a bounce of this magnitude was on the cards after such steep losses.”

Shanghai-based BTCChina, a major Chinese bitcoin exchange, had said on Thursday it would stop all trading from Sept. 30, citing tightening regulation. Smaller Chinese bitcoin exchanges ViaBTC, YoBTC and Yunbi also announced similar closures on Friday.

(Reporting by Jemima Kelly; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Germany’s Merkel sees case for European fund to aid reform

PARIS (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined her support for a European Monetary Fund in an interview with European newspapers on Friday and said she could envisage financial support being granted to EU member states to help with reforms.

“We are working on a banking union and a European monetary fund so that we can act, under rigorous conditions, in crisis situations,” she told France’s Ouest-France newspaper and a German newspaper group.

“(I can see) the provision of financial assistance for reform projects in some countries,” she said. “But I don’t see for the moment a convincing case for a European tax.”

(Writing by Luke Baker; editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

Wall St unmoved by economic data, N. Korea missile test

By Sruthi Shankar

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks were little changed on Friday, but the Dow eked out another record high, as investors shrugged off North Korea’s latest missile test and domestic economic data that did little to move the needle on the timing of an interest rate hike.

The major indexes are hovering at record high levels, with investors now awaiting the Federal Reserve’s meeting on Sept. 19-20 to gauge the future path of monetary policy.

No monetary policy change is expected at the meet, but the odds of a December rate hike jumped on Thursday after a strong report on consumer prices, a closer read on inflation, which the central bank is closely monitoring.

U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fell last month, the Commerce Department said, while another report showed industrial output in August notched its first decline since January.

Both readings included the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

Earlier in the day, Pyongyang fired a second missile in as many weeks over Japan, which drew widespread criticism from global leaders, but barely moved shares and other risk assets.

“I think the market is kind of getting desensitized to that,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“But it can always use that as an excuse in an overbought situation, to take some pressure off.”

At 9:39 a.m. ET (1339 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> was up 28.81 points, or 0.13 percent, at 22,232.29, the S&P 500 <.SPX> was down 0.45 points, or 0.01 percent, at 2,495.17.

The Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> was down 5.31 points, or 0.08 percent, at 6,423.77.

The three major indexes were on track to log gains for the week, with the Dow poised for its best week in more than 8 months.

Despite geopolitical concerns and uncertainty regarding interest rates, the Dow has gained more than 12 percent this year, driven by strong corporate earnings reports and optimism that President Donald Trump will cut business taxes.

Eight of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher on the day, led by the telecom services sector’s <.SPLRCL> 0.45 percent rise.

Oracle <ORCL.N> fell 5.83 percent after the company’s disappointing profit forecast and indications of a slowing cloud business. The stock was the biggest drag on the S&P.

United Continental <UAL.N>, Spirit Airlines <SAVE.O> and American Airlines <AAL.O> fell between 1.20 percent and 2.10 percent after JPMorgan downgraded all three stocks.

Volatility may rise on as Friday, which marks the quadruple witching day, when investors unwind interests in futures and options contracts prior to their expiration.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,424 to 1,074. On the Nasdaq, 1,305 issues fell and 1,022 advanced.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza)