Banks and technology companies led U.S. stocks to modest gains Thursday, pushing the Dow Jones industrial average to its second record close in two days.Big retail chains and other consumer-focused stocks were among the gainers. Energy companies rose as the price of crude oil increased. Phone companies and utilities lagged the market."We're continuing to hit record highs," said Erik Davidson, chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank. "It is a resilient market, impervious to whatever comes out of Washington."The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 4.58 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,447.83. The Dow rose 20.95 points, or 0.1 percent, to 21,553.09. The Nasdaq composite added 13.27 points, or 0.2 percent, to 6,274.44. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks inched up 1.34 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,425.66.The major indexes are all on pace to end the week with gains.Trading was mostly subdued for much of the day as investors weighed new economic data on applications for unemployment benefits and prices at the wholesale level.Overall, investors were focused on the coming wave of corporate earnings."Markets are really biding their time until we get into tomorrow's more robust earnings releases," said Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager for Private Wealth Management at U.S. Bank.Banks and other financials stocks posted the largest gains. T. Rowe Price Group added $3.61, or 4.8 percent, to $79.19. Goldman Sachs Group rose $3.01, or 1.3 percent, to $230.40. Morgan Stanley picked up 56 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $45.52.The gains among financial companies came as investors looked ahead to Friday, when several big banks, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo release their second-quarter results."Banks certainly operate a bit in their own orbit, but at the same time financials globally are a proxy for the overall economy. Investors are definitely looking to see how those come out," Davidson said.
Traders will be focused on companies' latest quarterly earnings for the next few weeks. The market expects earnings per share growth of about 7 percent from companies in the S&P 500.Delta Air Lines released its earnings Thursday. Its shares slid 1.8 percent after the company reported a smaller profit and less revenue than analysts expected. The stock shed 98 cents to $54.50.Traders also bid up shares in technology sector companies. NetApp rose $1.21, or 3 percent, to $41.38. PayPal gained $1.35, or 2.4 percent, to $57.90.Several large retailers had a good day.Gap notched the biggest gain among S&P 500 companies. The stock climbed $1.21, or 5.6 percent, to $22.78. Macy's rose 87 cents, or 4.1 percent, to $22.10.Investors cheered Target's latest quarterly outlook. The retailer raised its second-quarter forecasts and said sales and customer traffic increased. The stock gained $2.44, or 4.8 percent, to $53.31."That's been a bit of fresh air in a very, very challenged sector," Davidson said.NRG Energy climbed 5.3 percent a day after the company disclosed plans to raise up to $4 billion through asset sales in order to lower its debt. The stock picked up $1.11 to $22.20.Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's second day testifying before Congress didn't generate any major market-moving news.Yellen, appearing before a Senate committee, spoke about the dual risks of inflation: prices rising too slowly and prices accelerating too quickly. Her comments appeared to be an effort to modify the impact of her comments before a House committee on Wednesday.The House remarks were seen as signaling that the Fed might slow the pace of rate hikes if inflation does keep falling below the Fed's 2 percent target. Those remarks assuaged concerns among some traders that the Fed was raising interest rates too quickly in the face of stalling inflation and sluggish U.S. economic growth, setting off a broad market rally.fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.35 percent from 2.33 percent late Wednesday.Benchmark U.S. crude gained 59 cents, or 1.3 percent, to settle at $46.08 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 68 cents, or 1.4 percent, to close at $48.42 per barrel in London.In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline inched up less than 1 cent to $1.53 a gallon. Heating oil rose 2 cents to $1.49 a gallon. Natural gas fell 2 cents to $2.96 per 1,000 cubic feet.Gold fell $1.80 to $1,217.30 an ounce. Silver slid 20 cents to $15.69 an ounce. Copper lost 2 cents to $2.66 a pound.The dollar slipped to 113.23 yen from 113.25 yen late Wednesday. The euro weakened to $1.1406 from $1.1415.Major stock indexes in Europe closed mostly higher.Germany's DAX rose 0.1 percent, while the CAC 40 in France gained 0.3 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was flat.In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index jumped 1.2 percent after a report showed that Chinese trade growth accelerated for a second month in June. Japan's Nikkei 225 stock index was flat. South Korea's Kospi gained 0.7 percent.