S&P 500 closes at a record high as energy sector recovers

CBS shares jump on strong earnings

A slight gain was enough to push the stock market back to record Friday.

Stocks climbed as a rebound in oil prices helped push energy stocks higher. A report that showed growth picked up faster than forecast in Europe in the fourth quarter of last year also boosted investor sentiment.

Investors were also picking over the latest earnings news. CBS gained after reporting earnings that exceeded analyst's expectations, as the media company got a boost from better advertising revenue. V.F. Corporation, a clothing company whose brands include Vans, Wrangler and Timberland, jumped after giving an upbeat outlook for the year.

Stocks have surged in February, rebounding from a January slump, as recovering oil prices have boosted energy stocks. Growing corporate earnings and the announcement of more stimulus to boost growth in Europe have also helped turn investor sentiment around this month.

“Stability seems to be coming back,” said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. “Overall, I think the market is going to go higher … but it may be a case of two steps forward, one step back.”

The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 8.51 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,096.99. That surpassed the previous record close of 2,090.57 set Dec. 29.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 46.97 points, or 0.3 percent, to 18,019.35. The index is still 35 points short of its all-time high. The Nasdaq composite gained 36.22 points, or 0.8 percent, to 4,893.84.

About three-quarters of the companies in the S&P 500 index have now reported results for the fourth quarter, and earnings for the period are projected to rise by 7.5 percent. While that is a decline from growth of 10.4 percent in the previous quarter, it's better than analysts were expecting at the start of December.

On Friday, V.F. Corporation was one of the biggest gainers in the S&P 500. The company gained $4.26, or 6 percent, to $75.26 after the company said that it was expecting “meaningful growth” in all of its markets worldwide, despite challenges because of a strengthening dollar.

CBS was another winner on Friday.

The media company gained $2.06, or 3.6 percent, to $59.83 after it reported earnings late Thursday that were slightly better than Wall Street analysts had been expecting. The company got a boost from higher advertising revenues, led by the broadcast of “Thursday Night Football” and political ad revenues associated with the midterm elections.

This month's sharp gains are making some analysts cautious on stocks.

The price-earnings ratio for next year's earnings for S&P 500 companies is at 17.1, the highest level in more than a decade. The measure is a gauge of how much investors are willing to pay for a company's earnings.

“Watch those valuation levels very carefully,” said James Liu, Global Market Strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

Rather than tracking the broader market investors should focus on certain sectors, Liu says. At the moment he favors so-called consumer discretionary stocks, which should benefit as hiring picks and consumers get more money in their pockets from lower gas prices.

ConAgra was one of the biggest losers in the S&P 500 on Friday.

The food company, whose brands include Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix and Slim Jim beef jerky, dropped $1.59, or 4.4 percent, to $34.83 after cutting its earnings outlook for the year late Thursday. ConAgra blamed the impact of a stronger dollar and intense competition for its Private Brands unit.

While energy stocks have been rebounding this year, one of last year's biggest gainers is this year's biggest decliner.

Utilities surged 25 percent last year as investor pushed up the price of the dividend-rich stocks as bond yields fell. Now, as bond yields are showing signs of rising from their lows, investors are dumping the stocks. The sector is down 7 percent this month.

Stocks in the U.S. again got a lift from developments in Europe.

Data out Friday showed the eurozone economy picked up speed in the fourth quarter thanks to better growth in Germany and Spain. The currency union's economy grew 0.3 percent in the October-December period compared with the previous quarter, more than expected, thanks also to lower oil prices and a weaker euro. The growth rate, while encouraging, is still only about half that of the U.S.

Greece and its creditors in the 19-country eurozone took visible, if modest, steps to bridge their differences over Athens' demands to lighten the load of its financial bailout. Investors are hopeful that a deal will be reached to avoid Greece's exit from the euro.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.57 to $52.78 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude climbed $2.24 to $61.52 a barrel in London.

In U.S. government bond trading, prices fell slightly. The yield on the 10-year benchmark government note edged up to 2.04 percent from 1.99 percent on Tuesday.

The dollar was little changed against the Japanese yen and the euro. The dollar traded at 118.75 yen, down from 118.85 yen the previous day. The euro was flat at $1.1406.

In metals trading, precious and industrial metals futures closed higher. Gold rose $6.40 to $1,227.10 an ounce, silver jumped 50 cents to $17.29 an ounce and copper edged up less than a penny to $2.61 a pound.

In other energy futures trading on the NYMEX:

— Wholesale gasoline rose 3 cents to close at $1.626 a gallon.

— Heating oil rose 5.7 cents to close at $1.971 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 9.1 cents to close at $2.804 per 1,000 cubic feet.

 

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