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NEW YORK – The biggest story in the stock market Monday was Apple, but that wasn’t saying much.
Stocks barely moved. Trading was light, even by the slumberous standards of August. Investors – those who weren’t on vacation – killed time waiting for a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke later this week.
In the meantime, there wasn’t much else to guide them. Apple was one of the only shreds of action in an otherwise dull market.
The stock shot to an all-time high of $680.87 and finished at $675.68, up $12.46, or 1.9 percent. Late Friday, a jury found that Samsung copied some of the features of Apple’s iPhone and iPad, and Samsung could be forced to take products off the shelves.
Apple’s move wasn’t the biggest on the stock market Monday. Best Buy, Hertz, Dollar Thrifty and other companies all moved by bigger percentages.
But the Nasdaq composite index and Standard & Poor’s 500 index are weighted by stock market value, so the biggest companies are the most important.
A small change in Apple can influence the market more than big swings by smaller companies.
Apple makes up more than 13 percent of the Nasdaq composite and helped the index grasp a slight gain, rising 3.4 points to 3,073.19. It makes up 5 percent of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, which finished down 0.69 point to 1,410.44.
The Dow Jones industrial average, which does not include Apple, fell 33.30 points to 13,124.67.
Apple is the biggest company by stock market value in American history, worth $633 billion as of Monday. That’s more than 100 times the value of Best Buy or Hertz and about 260 times as much as Dollar Thrifty.
Overall trading was subdued – just 2.4 billion shares. The only quieter day this year was July 3, a Tuesday that fell before a midweek Fourth of July.
“The market is kind of on hold until Jackson Hole,” said Randall Warren, chief investment officer of Warren Financial Service in Exton, Pa., referring to the Wyoming resort town where Bernanke will speak. “Probably Apple is the only thing that’s moving the market today. It’s stunning how big they are.”
Investors will scour Bernanke’s remarks for clues about whether the Federal Reserve will buy more government bonds or take other action to try to speed up the economic recovery.
But some investors doubt there’s much the Fed can do. The Fed’s two previous rounds of bond-buying, launched in March 2009 and November 2010, were designed to lower interest rates, but short-term rates are already near zero.
“Who cares what the Fed’s going to do?” said Steve Quirk, senior vice president of the trader group at TD Ameritrade in Chicago. “It’s not effective anymore anyway.”
Shares of Hertz and Dollar Thrifty jumped because Hertz announced it would buy its rival. Hertz shares rose 8.1 percent, or $1.06, to $14.21. Dollar Thrifty rose 7.5 percent, or $6.08, to $87.08.
Best Buy climbed 56 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $17.87 after announcing that its founder would be able to pursue his plans to buy the company and take it off the public stock market.
But mostly, trading was quiet. Out of 19 trading days this month, the Dow has moved more than 1 percent only once. On five days it has been virtually flat, moving less than one-tenth of a percentage point.
In Europe, the debt crisis trudged along, but with no real steps forward or back.
The head of Germany’s central bank repeated his opposition to a bond-buying plan that could lower borrowing costs for countries like Spain and Italy but would require Germany to foot most of the bill.
Germany’s finance minister and economy minister weighed in over the weekend, saying they wouldn’t give Greece more time to make the spending cuts that Germany has demanded.
But none of the comments came as a surprise, and bigger events lie ahead. German courts will decide next month whether Germany is constitutionally allowed to keep participating in bailouts.