Another gain higher sends S&P 500 to record high, again

Traders monitor stock prices at the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

Another day, another lazy drift higher for stocks and another record high to end the week.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 9.86, or 0.5 percent, to close at 2,175.03 on Friday. It surpassed its prior record set Wednesday by 0.09 percent, the latest nudge higher for a market that has taken a decidedly slow-and-steady path to all-time highs in recent weeks. Telecom and utility stocks led the way, as they have for much of this year.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 53.62 to 18,570.85. The Nasdaq composite rose 26.26 to 5,100.16.

The gains sent all three indexes to their fourth consecutive winning week, their longest streak since March.

Many doubts still hang over the market, including the continued drop for corporate earnings and a U.S. economy that is growing only modestly. But various earnings and economic reports have come in better than expected, and the S&P 500 is up nearly 9 percent since June 27.

Southwestern Energy had the biggest gain in the S&P 500 following its own better-than-expected earnings report. It lost money in the latest quarter, but less than analysts estimated. The producer of natural gas and oil also raised its forecast for production this year.

American Airlines Group likewise rose despite reporting a drop in earnings..

The telecom and utilities sectors each rose 1.3 percent to lead the market. They have been at the forefront of the market’s rise this year because they pay some of the biggest dividends, and investors are scrounging for income given the low interest rates paid by bonds.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note held steady at 1.56 percent, while the yield on the 30-year Treasury bond ticked down to 2.28 percent from 2.29 percent late Thursday.

Friday’s gains were the latest in a steady march higher for stocks. The S&P 500 has not had a day where it moved by 1 percent, up or down, in the last two weeks. It’s a sharp turnaround from the end of June, when worries about the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union sent the S&P 500 to six straight days where it swung at least 1 percent.

The biggest loss for the S&P 500 over that span was Thursday’s drop of 0.4 percent. And investors quickly snapped up stocks the following day.

“I think people are a little more sensitized, where any tick lower in the market creates this ‘buy-on-the-dip’ mentality,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management. “I think it’s interesting; a half-a-percent move down feels like a 5 percent move.”

Next week could be more exciting. The Bank of Japan and Federal Reserve both hold policy meetings. Record-low interest rates and big stimulus programs from central banks have pushed stocks higher since the financial crisis.

Japan’s economy is barely growing. Economists are speculating about whether its central bank may push more stimulus next week.

The U.S. economy is in better shape than other advanced economies, and few expect the Federal Reserve to make a big move at its meeting. But if it highlights the better-than-expected recent economic reports, economists may move up their predictions for when the Fed could next raise interest rates.

The Fed pulled rates off their record low in December but has held pat since then.