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Jul 22, 4:56 PM EDT

Another creep higher sends S&P 500 to record high, again


AP Photo
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Another day, another lazy drift higher for stocks and another record high.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 9.86 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,175.03 on Friday. It surpassed its prior record set Wednesday by 0.09 percent, the latest nudge higher for a market that has taken a decidedly slow-and-steady path to all-time highs in recent weeks. Telecom and utility stocks led the way, as they have for much of this year.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 53.62 points, or 0.3 percent, to 18,570.85. The Nasdaq composite rose 26.26, or 0.5 percent, to 5,100.16. The gains sent all three indexes to their fourth consecutive winning week, their longest streak since March.

Many doubts still hang over the market, including the continued drop for corporate earnings and a U.S. economy that is growing only modestly. But various earnings and economic reports have come in better than expected, and the S&P 500 is up nearly 9 percent since June 27.

Southwestern Energy had the biggest gain in the S&P 500 following its own better-than-expected earnings report. It lost money in the latest quarter, but less than analysts estimated. The producer of natural gas and oil also raised its forecast for production this year, and its stock jumped $1.26, or 9.5 percent, to $14.47.

American Airlines Group likewise rose despite reporting a drop in earnings. It climbed $1.40, or 4 percent, to $36.36 after reporting better results than analysts expected.

The telecom and utilities sectors each rose 1.3 percent to lead the market. They have been at the forefront of the market's rise this year because they pay some of the biggest dividends, and investors are scrounging for income given the low interest rates paid by bonds.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note held steady at 1.56 percent, while the yield on the 30-year Treasury bond ticked down to 2.28 percent from 2.29 percent late Thursday.

Honeywell International fell $3.05, or 2.6 percent, to $115.61. The company reported stronger earnings than analyst expected, but it also lowered its forecast for full-year sales. It helped hold the industrial sector to the weakest gains of the day among the 10 sectors that make up the S&P 500, up 0.1 percent.

Fridays' gains were the latest in a steady march higher for stocks. The S&P 500 has not had a day where it moved by 1 percent, up or down, in the last two weeks. 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 percent.

The biggest loss for the S&P 500 over that span was Thursday's drop of 0.4 percent. And investors quickly snapped up stocks the following day.

"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-percent move down feels like a 5 percent move."

Next week could be more exciting. The Bank of Japan and Federal Reserve both hold 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. 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.

European stock markets were mixed. Germany's DAX index dipped 0.1 percent, France's CAC 40 index rose 0.1 percent and Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent. Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 1.1 percent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng dipped 0.2 percent and South Korea's Kospi index lost 0.1 percent.

The price of U.S. crude fell 56 cents, or 1.2 percent to settle at $44.19 a barrel. Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell 51 cents, or 1.1 percent, 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.

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.

The pound sank against the dollar on expectations for more stimulus from the Bank of England. It fell to $1.3093 from $1.3203. The dollar ticked up to 106.17 Japanese yen from 105.86 yen, and the euro dipped to $1.0961 from $1.1013.

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