US stocks close higher; Nasdaq climbs to an all-time high

Meric Greenbaum
Specialist Meric Greenbaum, center, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, March 30, 2017. U.S. stock indexes edged higher in early trading Thursday as investors weighed the latest batch of company earnings, deal news and economic data. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

March 30, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) Banks and other financial companies led U.S. stocks modestly higher Thursday, nudging the Nasdaq composite index to an all-time high.

Rising bond yields, which can result in higher interest rates on loans and bigger profits for banks, helped put traders in the mood to buy banking stocks. Energy companies also notched gains as crude oil prices rose. Utilities and other high-dividend stocks fell.

Investors also bid up shares in companies that released strong quarterly results or announced big transactions. ConocoPhillips jumped 8.8 percent after the energy company agreed to sell most of its Canadian assets.

“Equities are ending the first quarter in a reasonably good place,” said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “I do think equities trend sideways, probably for the next month. The rally since the election has centered around improved sentiment regarding tax reform and infrastructure spending, and that’s still a work in progress.”

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 69.17 points, or 0.3 percent, to 20,728.49. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 6.93 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,368.06. The Nasdaq gained 16.80 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,914.34. Small-company stocks fared better than the other indexes, sending the Russell 2000 index up 10.70 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,382.35. The four stock indexes last set record highs on March 1.

Bond prices edged lower. The 10-year Treasury yield rose to 2.41 percent from 2.38 percent late Wednesday.

Trading was mostly subdued at the start of trading Thursday following mixed action in overseas markets. But soon investors got another batch of encouraging economic news: The Commerce Department raised its estimate for economic growth in the fourth quarter to 2.1 percent from 1.9 percent, noting that consumer spending increased more than expected. And the Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits dipped slightly last week.

The latest economic data followed positive reports on consumer confidence and housing earlier this week.

“Today’s action and the little bit of strength we’ve seen the past couple of days is maybe investors focusing a little bit more on fundamentals and the fact that the economy and earnings are in the same trajectory as they were two weeks ago when the markets were at all-time highs, and we’re slightly below that,” said Sean Lynch, co-head of global equity strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

Financial sector stocks rose 1.2 percent, the biggest gain among the 11 sectors in the S&P 500. The sector, which is up 2.8 percent this year, accounted for more than half of the index’s gains Thursday.

Traders bid up shares in big banks such as Capital One Financial, which rose $2.46, or 2.9 percent, to $87.14.

“What we know is that probably interest rates are rising and the Fed is going to raise rates, and that probably less regulation is on the way, and that might be why sometimes you see financials kick up on a day like this,” Lynch said.

ConocoPhillips jumped after the energy company agreed to sell most of its Canadian assets to Canada’s Cenovus Energy in a deal valued at $13.2 billion. The stock was the biggest gainer in the S&P 500 index, climbing $4.05 to $50.

Extreme Networks surged 14.2 percent after the network infrastructure equipment maker agreed to buy a data center, switching, routing and analytics business from Brocade Communications once Brocade is acquired by Broadcom. Shares in Extreme Networks rose 92 cents to $7.38.

Several companies rose after turning in strong quarterly results.

Irrigation equipment maker Lindsay Corp. climbed $6.42, or 7.9 percent, to $87.81.

Other companies failed to impress traders.

Lululemon sank 23.4 percent a day after the yoga clothing company’s forecast for the quarter fell well short of Wall Street’s expectations. The stock slid $15.54 to $50.76.

Science Applications International tumbled 13.1 percent after the information technology company’s latest quarterly results missed estimates. The company cited a variety of problems, including delays and declines in contract work. The stock lost $11.28 to $74.97.

World stocks were mixed. In Europe, Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40 each gained 0.4 percent, while Britain’s FTSE 100 slipped 0.1 percent. Earlier, some Asian indexes fell after Chinese authorities tightened liquidity in the financial system of the world’s second-largest economy.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.4 percent, while Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.8 percent. South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.1 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.4 percent. Southeast Asian indexes were mixed.

In energy futures trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 84 cents, or 1.7 percent, to close at $50.35 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 54 cents, or 1 percent, to $52.96 a barrel in London. Natural gas slipped 4 cents to $3.19 per 1,000 cubic feet, wholesale gasoline rose a penny to $1.68 per gallon and heating oil gained 2 cents to $1.56 per gallon.

The price of gold fell $8.70 to settle at $1,245 an ounce. Silver slid 5 cents to $18.21 per ounce. Copper slipped a penny to $2.67 per pound.

In currency trading, the dollar rose to 111.60 yen from 111.03 yen on Wednesday. The euro fell to $1.0691 from $1.0760.

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ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer

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