Modest Gains Push Stock Indexes Higher

(AP) -- Financial companies led U.S. stock indexes higher Thursday, nudging the Nasdaq composite index to a record high.

The latest gains came as the stock market continued to trade mostly in a narrow range in the absence of major new economic data and ahead of next week's meeting of Federal Reserve policymakers.

Speculation that the Fed will raise interest rates helped boost financial stocks for the second day in a row. Higher interest rates allow banks and credit card issuers to charge more for loans, which boosts profits.

Utilities and consumer goods companies were among the biggest decliners. Energy stocks also fell as crude oil prices declined.

"(Today) is a continuation of fairly muted market action," Bill Northey, chief investment officer at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. "We've been in a very low volatility period of time. We're also a bit between material economic events."

The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 0.65 points, or 0.03 percent, to 2,433.79. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 8.84 points, or 0.04 percent, to 21,182.53. Both indexes remain slightly below their record highs set last Friday.

The Nasdaq added 24.38 points, or 0.4 percent, to 6,321.76. Small-company stocks fared better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index climbed 18.94 points, or 1.4 percent, to 1,415.61.

Bond prices fell. The 10-year Treasury yield rose to 2.19 percent from 2.18 percent late Wednesday.

Stocks wavered between small gains and losses through much of the day as investors tuned in to watch former FBI Director James Comey testify before Congress as part of the investigation into Russian meddling into the U.S. presidential election.

In his testimony, Comey's first public statements since his May 9 dismissal, he told Congress that President Donald Trump's administration spread "lies" about him and the FBI after his abrupt firing in May.

Stock indexes barely budged throughout the hearing, the public portion of which wrapped around midday.

"Today did not turn into a market event, nor did it accelerate the path toward further progress on the legislative and administrative agenda," Northey said.

Investors have been looking for more progress out of the White House on its agenda to cut taxes, increase infrastructure spending and implement other business-friendly policies.

The Republican-led House took steps Thursday to advance Trump's pledge to ease regulations on businesses by taking a vote on legislation that would undo the stricter banking rules that took effect after the devastating 2008 financial crisis. That helped lift bank stocks.

Goldman Sachs Group picked up $2.98, or 1.4 percent, to $218.76. JPMorgan Chase added $1.04, or 1.2 percent, to $84.95. Regions Financial gained 44 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $14.03.

Traders also welcomed news that members of the Nordstrom family are considering taking the company private.

Like Macy's and other big department store chains, Nordstrom has struggled to cope with competition from online retailers. The company, which has 354 stores in the U.S. and Canada, has seen its stock tumble by half since early 2015. On Thursday, the stock soared $4.15, or 10.3 percent, to $44.63.

Several companies that reported improved earnings or outlooks also traded higher.

Verint Systems rose 3.2 percent after the maker of software for analyzing intercepted communications had a strong first quarter. The stock added $1.35 to $43.45.

Investors cheered Alibaba Group Holding's latest revenue forecast. Shares in the Chinese e-commerce company gained $16.70, or 13.3 percent, to $142.34.

Some companies failed to impress traders.

Urban Outfitters slid 10.3 percent after the retailer said sales at older stores are running lower than expected this month. That followed weak sales in May. The stock shed $1.88 to $16.35.

Benchmark U.S. crude wavered for much of the day before sliding 8 cents to settle at $45.64 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 20 cents to close at $47.86 per barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline held steady at $1.49 per gallon. Heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.42 per gallon. Natural gas added 1 cent to $3.03 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The dollar rose to 109.94 yen from Wednesday's 109.83 yen. The euro weakened to $1.1222 from $1.1252.

In metals trading, gold fell $13.70, or 1.1 percent, to $1,279.50 per ounce. Silver lost 21 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $17.41 per ounce. Copper gained 6 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $2.61 per pound.

European stock markets were mixed after the European Central Bank kept its stimulus program unchanged. ECB President Mario Draghi said Thursday that risks to the European economic recovery have diminished. Germany's DAX rose 0.3 percent, while France's CAC 40 slipped 0.2 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.4 percent as Britain went to the polls in a general election.

In Asia, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.3 percent, while South Korea's Kospi edged up 0.2 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.3 percent. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent.

(KA)