Stocks open higher on Wall Street, natural gas prices climb

Stocks were modestly higher in early trading today, pushed by energy companies who have seen record electricity prices due to the frigid cold impacting much of the country. Investors remain steadily focused on stimulus talks in Washington, which are marching forward now with former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial now over.

The S&P 500 index was up 0.3% as of 8:55 a.m. Central, with energy companies accounting for a big part of the gains. The top 10 biggest gainers included companies like Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Marathon Petroleum and Diamondback Energy, all up 3% or more.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.4% and the Nasdaq Composite index was up 0.4%.

Energy prices rose sharply, as record demand for heating across much of the frigid Midwest and Texas has pushed electricity prices higher. Prices for natural gas, which is the country’s primary way to produce quick “on-demand” electricity when needed, was up 7% in early trading to its highest level since November, when hurricane season impacted some natural gas production along the Gulf Coast.

Heating oil prices were up 2%, much less than natural gas, since it’s primarily used in the Northeast in older boilers to heat homes. The Northeast hasn’t seen unreasonable temperatures for this time of the year.

Investors continue to look to Washington. With the second impeachment trial over, investors believe Congress can now make progress toward passing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan. The package would include one-time payments to Americans plus additional assistance to industries, states and jurisdictions impacted by the pandemic. Democrats in Congress have elected to use a Senate process known as reconciliation, which does not require 60 votes in the Senate to pass.

Much of Asia remains closed in observance of the Lunar New Year.