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US: Health shares boosted as stocks end flat


[NEW YORK] Health and pharma shares moved broadly higher on Thursday after Senate Republicans unveiled a new health reform proposal as US stocks ended little changed.

Oil prices, which finished at multi-month lows on Wednesday, rallied a bit, boosting some petroleum-linked equities and broader market sentiment.

Several companies in the health sector rose, including insurer Aetna, up 0.6 percent, hospital company Tenet Healthcare, up 7.0 per cent, and pharmacy benefit company Express Scripts, up 1.5 per cent.

The advances came as Republicans released a long-awaited health bill, although the proposal's prospects looked uncertain due to the apparent opposition of key lawmakers.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 0.1 per cent to 21,397.29.

The broad-based S&P 500 lost 0.1 per cent to finish at 2,434.50, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index rose less than 0.1 per cent to 6,236.69.

American Airlines rose 1.1 per cent on news that Qatar Airways is seeking to buy about a 10 per cent stake in the US carrier. The action comes as Qatar feels the pinch from a diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia and other neighbouring countries.

Oracle shot up 8.6 per cent on better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings due to a strong performance in its cloud computing business.