Earnings gains push Dow, S&P 500 to new highs

| Thursday, July 18, 2013, 8:54 p.m.

NEW YORK — Earnings gains at major companies and encouraging economic news pushed stocks to record levels on Thursday.

A drop in claims for unemployment benefits signaled a healthier economy and encouraged investors to buy stocks. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said manufacturing in its region grew at the fastest pace in more than two years this month.

Among companies reporting quarterly earnings, Morgan Stanley was one of the standouts, rising $1.16, or 4.4 percent, to $27.70. The New York bank reported sharply higher earnings driven by investment banking gains and said it planned to spend $500 million buying back its stock. IBM rose $3.44, or 1.8 percent, to $197.99 after its profit beat analysts' forecasts.

Energy companies rose as the price of oil shot to a 16-month high on signs that the economy is improving. Technology stocks lagged the market in response to lackluster results from eBay and Intel. Industry bellwethers Google and Microsoft both plunged 5 percent in post-market trading after reporting disappointing earnings after the close.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 8.46 points to 1,689.37. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 78.02 points to 15,548.54. The Dow's gains were led by IBM and UnitedHealth Group, which reported better earnings than analysts were expecting.

The Nasdaq composite edged up 1.28 points to 3,611.28.

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