Stock indexes inch higher, approach record highs again

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Stocks rose Friday afternoon trading, the latest nudge forward for a market that has taken a decidedly slow-and-steady path to record highs. Telecom and utility stocks led the way, as they have for much of this year.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was up 8 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 2,173 at 3:08 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 36, or 0.2 per cent, to 18,553. The Nasdaq composite gained 24, or 0.5 per cent, to 5,098.

The S&P 500 recovered most of its 0.4 per cent loss from a day earlier.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “I think people are a little more sensitized, where any tick lower in the market creates this ‘buy-on-the-dip’ mentality,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management. “I think it’s interesting; a half-a-per cent move down feels like a 5 per cent move.”

ANOTHER MILD ONE: It’s been a calm drive the last two weeks for the S&P 500, where mostly modest moves have helped set a series of records culminating in its all-time high of 2,173.02 set on Wednesday. The S&P 500 has yet to have a day where it moved by 1 per cent, up or down, in the last two weeks.

Many doubts are still hanging over the market, including the continued drop for corporate earnings and a U.S. economy that is growing only modestly. Various earnings and economic reports have come in better than expected, however, and the S&P 500 is up more than 8 per cent since June 27.

It’s a sharp turnaround from the end of June, when worries about the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union sent the S&P 500 to six straight days where it swung at least 1 per cent.

WINNING STREAK: The S&P 500 is on track for a modest gain for the week, maybe half a per cent. If it holds, it will be the fourth consecutive week higher for the index, its longest winning streak since March.

BIGGER WAVES AHEAD? Next week could be a more exciting one for markets, with the Bank of Japan and Federal Reserve both holding policy meetings. Record-low interest rates and big stimulus programs from central banks have pushed stocks higher since the financial crisis.

Japan’s economy is barely growing, and economists are speculating about whether its central bank may push more stimulus next week.

The U.S. economy is in better shape than other advanced economies, and few expect the Federal Reserve to make a big move at its meeting. But if it highlights the better-than-expected recent economic reports, economists may move up their predictions for when the Fed could next raise interest rates.

The Fed pulled rates off their record low in December but has held pat since then.

ENERGIZED: Southwestern Energy jumped $1.22, or 9.2 per cent, to $14.43. The producer of natural gas and oil it reported higher-than-expected earnings and raised its forecast for production this year.

POWERED UP: Stanley Black & Decker jumped $5.78 or 5 per cent, to $120.75 after reporting stronger revenue and earnings for its last quarter than Wall Street expected. It benefited from stronger tool sales in Europe and elsewhere.

ALIGHTING: American Airlines climbed $1.30, or 3.7 per cent, to $36.26 after reporting a milder drop in quarterly earnings than analysts expected. The carrier’s revenue fell 4 per cent because of the soft global economy, among other factors, but Wall Street was forecasting a steeper drop.

NOT SO SWEET: Honeywell International fell $2.99, or 2.5 per cent, to $115.67 to lead industrial stocks lower. The company reported stronger earnings than analyst expected, but it also lowered its forecast for full-year sales. The industrial sector was the only of the 10 that make up the S&P 500 to fall.

OUCH: Stryker fell $5.90, or 4.8 per cent, to $116.65 after it gave a forecast for earnings in the current quarter that was lower than analysts were expecting. The medical device maker’s stock had been up more than 30 per cent for the year before the report.

OVERSEAS: European markets were mixed after reports suggested countries that use the euro are proving resilient to the uncertainty surrounding Britain’s vote. A report on business in the U.K. was “truly horrible,” according to one economist, and raised expectations of more central bank stimulus there.

Germany’s DAX index dipped 0.1 per cent, France’s CAC 40 index rose 0.1 per cent and Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.5 per cent. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 1.1 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dipped 0.2 per cent and South Korea’s Kospi index lost 0.1 per cent.

BONDS: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note held steady at 1.56 per cent, after climbing earlier in the day. The yield on the 30-year Treasury bond remained at 2.29 per cent.

COMMODITIES: The price of U.S. crude fell 56 cents, or 1.2 per cent to settle at $44.19 a barrel. Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell 51 cents, or 1.1 per cent, to $45.69 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.36 a gallon, heating oil fell 1 cent to $1.36 a gallon and natural gas rose 9 cents to $2.78 per 1,000 cubic feet.

CURRENCIES: The pound sank against the dollar on expectations for more stimulus from the Bank of England. It fell to $1.3101 from $1.3203. The dollar ticked up to 106.17 Japanese yen from 105.86 yen, and the euro dipped to $1.0963 from $1.1013.

METALS: Precious and industrial metals prices ended lower. Gold fell $7.60 to $1,323.40 an ounce, silver fell 13 cents to $19.69 an ounce and copper lost 2 cents to close at $2.24 a pound.