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Stocks mostly rise, led by companies that pay big dividends

Utilities, real estate firms and other companies that pay big dividends led U.S. stocks mostly higher Wednesday, pushing the Nasdaq composite to a new record for the second day in a row.

The gains by big-dividend stocks came as bond yields fell, making those traditionally safer stocks more attractive to investors seeking income. Banks and other financial stocks were the market's biggest laggards.

Although investors have been focused in recent weeks on companies reporting their quarterly results, they are also trying to size up whether the Trump administration will deliver on expectations of business-friendly policies that helped fuel the market rally last fall.

“You're beginning to see investors hedging some of their concerns, whether it's an escalation in the debate between the White House and the judges on the [travel] ban, or concerns over the direction of the elections coming up in the Eurozone,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. “The question really is whether or not those concerns intensify.”

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.59 points, or 0.1%, to 2,294.67. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 35.95 points, or 0.2%, to 20,054.34. The Nasdaq advanced 8.24 points, or 0.2%, to 5,682.45. The index also closed at new record highs Tuesday and last Friday. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks fell 2.32 points, or 0.2%, to 1,358.74.

Bond prices rose. The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 2.34% from 2.40%. That yield is a benchmark used to set interest rates on many kinds of loans including home mortgages.

The stock indexes headed lower as trading opened Wednesday and investors weighed the latest company earnings. The market soon recovered some of its losses after crude oil prices turned higher.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 17 cents, or 0.3%, to $52.34 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oil prices, climbed 7 cents, or 0.1%, to $55.12 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline rose 7 cents, or 4.4%, to $1.55 a gallon, while heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.64 a gallon. Natural gas futures were flat at $3.13 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Investors bid up shares in companies that posted better-than-expected quarterly results and outlooks.

Strong fiscal third-quarter earnings propelled Microchip Technology up 6% to $73.80, making it the biggest gainer in the S&P 500.

Myriad Genetics jumped 7.3% to $16.52 after the diagnostic test maker said sales of hereditary cancer tests have resumed rising, driving revenue to the highest level in three years.

Panera Bread's latest results and forecast helped boost the bakery chain 8.7% to $232.90.

Botox maker Allergan also got a lift from its quarterly report card, rising 3.7% to $241.17.

Several companies served up earnings and forecasts that fell short of Wall Street's expectations, sending their shares lower.

Akamai Technologies tumbled 10.6% to $63.55 after the cloud services company's latest guidance disappointed investors. The stock was the biggest decliner in the S&P 500.

Gilead Sciences slumped 8.6% to $66.83 after the biotechnology company forecast disappointing sales of its hepatitis C drugs. The stock gave up $6.30.

Zillow Group slid 7.6% to $34.33 after the online real estate information company posted a tally of monthly unique users that fell short of expectations.

More than half of the companies in the S&P 500 index have reported quarterly results so far, and roughly 60% of those have posted earnings that beat financial analysts' estimates.

Coca-Cola, Twitter and Viacom are among the big companies due to report results Thursday.

Gold rose $3.40 to $1,239.50 an ounce. Silver fell 5 cents to $17.71 an ounce. Copper rose 3 cents to $2.67 a pound.

The dollar fell to 112.05 yen from 112.19 yen. The euro weakened to $1.0687 from $1.0696.

Overseas, Germany's DAX fell 0.1%, while France's CAC 40 rose 0.3%. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was flat. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 rose 0.5%, Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.7% and Sydney's S&P ASX 200 gained 0.5%.

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UPDATES:

2:35 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.

1:20 p.m.: This article was updated with the close of markets.

This article was originally published at 7:05 a.m.

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