US stocks close in on tiny gains after 2-day climb


NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are mostly higher Thursday afternoon after big gains over the last two days. Utilities and phone companies are rising the most as bond yields slip. Chemicals companies and banks are down. Retailers including Dollar Tree and Costco, which have been pummeled in recent weeks, traded higher after strong earnings reports.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 18 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,833 as of 3:10 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1 point to 2,091. The Nasdaq composite index added 9 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,903.

THE QUOTE: After two days of hefty gains, stocks traded more on individual news than broad trends. Jim McDonald, chief investment strategist for Northern Trust, said investors are waiting to hear Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s remarks at Harvard University on Friday.

“Traders are unlikely to want to make big bets ahead of Yellen’s speech,” he said.

Stocks have risen to some of their highest levels of 2016 as investors were encouraged by strong monthly home sales in the U.S. and economic support for Greece. But stocks haven’t moved much on Thursday despite a drop in applications for unemployment benefits.

BONDS: Bond yields, which have risen over the last few weeks, slumped as prices rose. That sent utility and phone company stocks higher because those stocks are seen as similar to bonds, and the lower yields make them more appealing compared to bonds. NextEra Energy rose $1.47, or 1.2 percent, to $119.70 and Con Edison picked up 90 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $72.69. AT&T added 23 cents to $38.85.

Bond prices rose and the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 1.83 percent from 1.87 percent.

TURNING AROUND: Banks and chemicals companies, which made some of the biggest gains on Wednesday, traded lower. Monsanto, which has jumped on talks about a potential sale to Bayer, lost $1.72, or 1.5 percent, to $109.96. Dow Chemical fell 76 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $52.10.

RETAIL RISES: Retailers have tumbled in recent weeks as they’ve reported weak earnings. Among other problems, shoppers aren’t spending as much on clothes and the strong dollar is hurting their profits and sales overseas. Department stores have been hit the hardest. But on Thursday several retailers disclosed solid results from the past three months.

Discount retailer Dollar Tree raised its forecasts for the year after it reported its first-quarter results. The stock gained $9.89, or 12.6 percent, to $88.25.

PVH, the owner of the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, raised its profit forecasts for the year after it reported strong quarterly results. PVH also said it the strong dollar won’t hurt its results quite as much as it originally expected. Its stock added $4.31, or 4.8 percent, to $94.14.

Wholesale club operator Costco also rose $5.34, or 3.7 percent, to $149.88 after it made its quarterly report.

US ECONOMY: The government said new applications for unemployment benefits fell to 268,000 last week. That suggests that companies feel comfortable enough to hold on to their workers. A separate report showed that orders for long-lasting manufactured goods rose in April, but a measurement of business investment fell for the third month in a row. That shows manufacturing is still under pressure.

LOSING ITS SHINE: Jewelry company Signet Jewelers slumped after it posted weaker-than-expected sales and lowered its projections for sales at older stores. The stock lost $9.17, or 8.5 percent, to $99.20.

HP IS U-P: Personal computer and printer maker HP reported a bigger profit than analysts had forecast, and it gave a solid outlook for the year. The stock climbed 93 cents, or 7.6 percent, to $13.13.

OIL: Like the broader market, oil prices were little changed. U.S. crude slipped 8 cents to $49.48 a barrel in New York while Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, fell 15 cents to $49.59 a barrel in London. Oil prices are at their highest level since October, but U.S. crude hasn’t closed above $50 a barrel since July.

REMEMBER IPOs: U.S. Foods Holding, the second-biggest food service distributor in the country, went public with an initial public offering that priced at $1.02 billion. That was one of the largest IPOs of the year, as the market turmoil over the last few months has made companies hesitant to go public. The stock jumped $1.77, or 7.7 percent, to $24.77.

OTHER ENERGY TRADING: Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $1.62 a gallon. Heating oil declined 1 cent to $1.50 a gallon. Natural gas fell 3 cents to $1.96 per 1,000 cubic feet.

METALS: The price of gold slipped for the seventh day in a row, losing $3.40 to $1,220.40 an ounce. Silver rose 8 cents to $16.34 an ounce. Copper was unchanged at $2.10 a pound.

OVERSEAS: France’s CAC and Germany’s DAX both gained 0.7 percent and the FTSE in Britain was little changed. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index added nearly 0.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index added 0.1 percent.

CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 109.84 yen from 110.10 yen. The euro inched up to $1.1171 from $1.1160.

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AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/marley-jay