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Wednesday's Energy Stocks: Oil prices keep sector, broader markets afloat

Broader markets erased heavy losses earlier in the day in trading on Wednesday, Jan. 2, thanks to a surge in oil prices and a rally among energy equities. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished with an increase of 0.08% to finish at 23,346.24, and the S&P 500 edged up 0.13% to settle at 2,510.03.

Brent crude was up 1.84% to $54.79, and Light Sweet crude rose 2.03% to $46.33 per barrel.

Oil and gas companies outperformed other energy indices as the S&P 500 Energy Sector advanced 2.07% to 432.85.

Among top-gainers, EQT Corp. rose 5.35% on average volume to settle at $19.90; Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. increased 5.28% on strong volume to finish at $23.53; and Hess Corp. was up 4.30% in active trading to end at $42.24.

American Midstream Partners LP jumped 9.24% on strong volume to end at $3.31, following its announcement that it will not distribute cash to investors for the fourth quarter of 2018 after amending a credit agreement to reduce the pipeline company's pile of debt. Under the terms of the agreement, the master limited partnership may not pay any cash distributions unless its leverage ratio is less than 5x.

Martin Midstream Partners LP gained 4.77% in light trading to finish at $10.77, after closing its purchase of the tank truck operator Martin Transport Inc. from its parent company, Martin Resource Management Corp.

Northwest Natural Holding Co. shares fell shed 3.37% on about average volume to settle at $58.42. The company's gas utility Northwest Natural Gas Co. asked Washington regulators to increase base rates by 12.6% so it can recover higher operating costs and distribution system investments made over 10 years.

Shares of Pioneer Natural Resources Co. added 2.11% in brisk trading to finish at $134.30, after the company closed its sale of its pressure pumping assets to the oilfield services company ProPetro Holding Corp. for $400 million. The assets include eight frack fleets with 510,000 hydraulic horsepower and three coiled tubing units. ProPetro closed the day 2.44% higher on below-average volume to $12.62.

The Alerian MLP Index closed up 1.38% to 225.82.

Meanwhile, electric and diversified utilities went in the opposite direction, as the S&P 500 Utilities Sector receded 1.77% to 263.86.

NextEra Energy Inc. shed 2.30% in acting trading to close at $169.83, after closing its purchase of Florida electric utility Gulf Power Co. from Southern Co. Southern ended the day 0.46% lower to $43.72. In May 2018, NextEra agreed to acquire Gulf Power, natural gas distribution utility Florida City Gas and two gas plants for about $6.48 billion, including the assumption of about $1.4 billion in debt.

Dominion Energy Inc. retreated 0.39% in brisk trading to conclude at $71.18, following the close of its acquisition of SCANA Corp. in a transaction valued at more than $14 billion. SCANA shareholders received 0.6690 shares of Dominion's common stock for each share of SCANA for a conversion of $6.8 billion. Dominion also assumed approximately $6.6 billion in SCANA consolidated net debt.

MDU Resources Group Inc.'s stock price declined 1.17% on strong volume to finish at $23.56, after MDU completed its holding company reorganization in a tax-free transaction. The reorganization was intended to simplify the organizational structure and provide additional financing flexibility for the company.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the transfer of operating licenses for four hydroelectric facilities from Duke Energy Carolinas LLC to a privately held independent power producer. Parent company Duke Energy Corp. slid 1.85% on below-average volume to close at $84.70.

Other notable movers included Unitil Corp., down 4.40% to $48.41 in active trading; NRG Energy Inc., off 3.76% to $38.11 on slightly above-average volume; and Otter Tail Corp., down 3.67% to $47.82, also in heavy trading.

Market prices and index values are current as of the time of publication and are subject to change.