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Technology surge tips stock indexes to record highs

| Wednesday, July 20, 2016, 7:33 p.m.
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., July 20, 2016.
REUTERS
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., July 20, 2016.

NEW YORK — Stocks took another modest step into record territory Wednesday after several companies reported profits that were stronger than expected, if not strong.

Technology stocks led the way after an encouraging report from Microsoft.

Both the Standard & Poor's 500 index and Dow Jones industrial average set all-time highs, and the Dow marked its ninth consecutive day of gains. It's the longest winning streak for the measure of blue-chip stocks since 2013, and it's been a decidedly slow and steady one. All but one of those days had a gain of less than 1 percent.

“The problem is: Where do we go from here?” asked Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab. “I have the tendency to believe the upside is somewhat limited,” in part because stock prices have been rising faster than corporate earnings in recent years.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 9.24 points, or 0.4 percent, to close at 2,173.02. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 36.02, or 0.2 percent, to 18,595.03. The Nasdaq composite climbed 53.56, or 1.1 percent, to 5,089.93.

Companies are in the middle of telling investors how much they earned in the spring, and analysts are forecasting yet another decline from year-ago levels. The low expectations have made it easier for companies to come in above forecasts.

Microsoft surged to one of the biggest increases in the S&P 500 in the first day of trading after it reported quarterly results that easily beat analysts' expectations. The technology giant's stock jumped $2.82, or 5.3 percent, to $55.91 after it said momentum in its cloud-computing business helped it return to a profit in its fiscal fourth quarter.

That drove the technology sector up 1.4 percent, much more than the rest of the market.

The best-performing stock in the S&P 500 was Cintas, which leaped $9.43, or 9.7 percent, to $106.85. The company, which provides uniforms, restroom supplies and other products for offices, also reported quarterly earnings above analysts' expectations.

In this reporting season, earnings for nearly two out of three companies have come in above analysts' expectations, according to S&P Global Markets Intelligence. That's what usually happens, because analysts tend to lower their earnings forecasts for companies as each reporting season approaches.

Several reports on the U.S. economy have also come in better than expected in recent weeks, which has helped drive the run for stocks to a record.

Markets have become calm enough that the VIX, an index that measures investors' expectations of future volatility in the stock market, fell 2.2 percent and is near its lowest level since 2014.

The S&P 500 has been on a steady ride higher since setting a record on July 1, with no days where it has swung by 1 percent during that span. That's a sharp turnaround from the end of June, when the S&P 500 swung at least that much in six straight days, with one fear-inducing drop of 3.6 percent.

The market's calm has also meant less demand for gold and Treasurys, traditional go-to investments during periods of fear. The price of gold fell $13 to $1,319.30 per ounce. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves in the opposite direction of its price, climbed to 1.58 percent from 1.56 percent late Tuesday.

The weakest areas of the stock market Tuesday were sectors that tend to be big dividend payers, such as utilities, which lost 0.5 percent. These types of stocks had led the market for much of 2016 as investors sought alternatives to low-yielding bonds.

Twenty-First Century Fox fell 75 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $27.00 amid widespread reports that its Fox News business will soon cut ties with its head, Roger Ailes, after allegations of sexual harassment. Fox News is a key profit maker for the company.

The price of U.S. crude oil rose 29 cents to $44.94 per barrel. Brent crude, the international benchmark, rose 51 cents to $47.17 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell 1 cent to $1.36 a gallon, heating oil rose 2 cents to $1.41 a gallon and natural gas fell 7 cents to $2.66 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Silver fell 39 cents to $19.61 per ounce, and copper fell less than a cent to $2.25 per pound.

European markets were mostly higher, while Asia's day was mixed. Germany's DAX rose 1.6 percent after Volkswagen reported earnings that were better than analysts were expecting. France's CAC 40 gained 1.1 percent, and Japan's Nikkei 225 index dipped 0.2 percent.

The euro fell to $1.1005 from $1.1015 late Tuesday, and the dollar rose to 106.87 Japanese yen from 106.09 yen.

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