US Stocks Hit Another Record

(AP) -- Stocks finished broadly higher on Wall Street Thursday, adding to the gains that helped the market close out its best first half of a year since the dotcom bubble.

The S&P 500 rose 0.5%, marking its sixth straight gain and fourth consecutive record high. The price of U.S. crude oil rose more than 2%, giving a boost to energy companies. Bond yields edged higher and helped lift bank stocks. Health care and communication companies also helped lift the market. The consumer staples sector was the only laggard, weighed down by a pullback in shares of Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Investors have been encouraged by data that show the economy continues its recovery from the pandemic. The latest weekly unemployment report showed the lowest number of claims for jobless aid since the pandemic walloped the economy. The highly anticipated jobs report for June comes out Friday.

"Investors are eager to see whether or not the labor market continues to recover as quickly as expected," said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist for Allianz Investment Management.

The S&P 500 index rose 22.44 points to 4,319.94. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 131.02 points, or 0.4%, to 34,633.53. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 18.42 points, or 0.1%, to 14,522.38.

Small company stocks fared better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 18.80 points, or 0.8%, to 2,329.34.

The benchmark S&P 500 ended the first half of 2021 up 14.5%, it's best six-month period since 1998, as investors have embraced the post-pandemic economic recovery and set aside worries about inflation.

Employment has been one of the shakier areas of the economic recovery and has lagged other measures such as consumer confidence and retail sales. Economists and analysts have said that a much fuller and more stable recovery is dependent on more people going back to work.

On Friday investors will get the June jobs report. Economists surveyed by FactSet expect the U.S. economy created 675,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate fell to 5.7%.

The June jobs report is also being closely watched as a potential gauge for when the Federal Reserve might start easing its bond purchases and other measures that have kept interest rates low. Inflation fears have somewhat subsided, but investors are still trying to figure out whether rising inflation will be temporary or more long-lasting.

As part of the jobs report, investors will look to see if wages kept rising, which could add to inflation.

"All of these things are feeding into whether the Fed makes material changes to policy in near future," Ripley said.

Airlines and other travel-related companies that have been battered by the pandemic gained ground following the latest upbeat unemployment data. Delta Air Lines rose 2.2% and Marriott gained 2%.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.46% from 1.44% the day before.

Oil prices jumped as OPEC met. The group of oil-producing countries is considering whether to increase production as the global economy recovers from the pandemic. Oil prices along with other raw materials have risen steadily this year as demand has increased. Oil gained 2.4% Thursday and is up 55% so far this year.

"Crude oil has really been the story of the day," said J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist with TD Ameritrade. "Crude oil, because almost everybody is going to use gasoline directly to drive somewhere, that's going to hit people's pocketbooks a lot quicker and has a lot bigger effect."

Higher oil prices translated into higher energy company stocks. Occidental Petroleum rose 5.1%, ConocoPhillips gained 3.3% and Marathon Oil added 4%. The energy sector of the S&P 500 was the biggest winner in the first half of the year with a gain of over 40%.

Doughnut chain Krispy Kreme climbed 23.5% in its debut on the Nasdaq. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company, known for its glazed doughnuts, priced its initial public offering of 29.4 million shares at $17 a piece, which was well below the $21 to $24 it was seeking. This marks Krispy Kreme's second stint as a public company.