US stocks brush off year's first wobble, return to records

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017, file photo, a logo for the New York Stock Exchange is displayed above the trading floor. Stocks are rising at the start of trading Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, led by homebuilders and airlines. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

NEW YORK — U.S. stocks brushed aside their first wobble of the year and got back to setting records on Thursday. Energy stocks led the way after the price of oil touched its highest level since 2014.

The gains for indexes marked a return to calm, after a whiff of nervousness wafted through markets a day earlier as interest rates rose. After rates held steady on Thursday, the Standard & Poor's 500 index marked its seventh gain in the last eight days.

The S&P 500 rose 19.33 points, or 0.7 percent, to a record 2,767.56. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 205.60 points, or 0.8 percent, to 25,574.73, the Nasdaq composite gained 58.21 points, or 0.8 percent, to 7,211.78 and the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks surged 26.99 points, or 1.7 percent, to 1,586.79.

Optimism about a strengthening global economy and growing corporate profits have helped propel markets even though stocks have become more expensive than they've historically been relative to earnings.

The market's smooth ride upward hit a bump Wednesday when worries rose that a jump in interest rates could derail the ascent. Rates have been ultra-low since the Great Recession, a culmination of a decline in bond yields over the last three-plus decades.

"Everyone's on edge about waiting for what's to come," even though central banks have promised to take a slow path toward higher rates, said Marina Severinovsky, investment strategist at Schroders.

"There shouldn't be a falling-off-the-cliff mentality, but we're so primed," she said. "We're 30 years into this, waiting for the trigger."

Rates retreated on Thursday after China's foreign exchange regulator challenged a report that had helped drive up yields, which said China may slow or halt purchases of U.S. Treasurys. A U.S. government report on Thursday also showed that inflation was weaker on the wholesale level last month than economists expected.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dipped to 2.53 percent from 2.56 percent late Wednesday. It had climbed as high as 2.59 percent on Wednesday.

While a quick jump in rates could easily jolt markets out of the calm ride they've been on, investors say markets are prepared for a gradual rise.

"We're all anticipating rising rates, and have been for some time," Severinovsky said. "Given where global growth is, we should have higher rates than we do today."

Energy stocks were the day's biggest stars after the price of oil touched its highest price in more than three years. Benchmark U.S. crude gained 23 cents to settle at $63.80 per barrel after earlier climbing as high as $64.77. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 6 cents to $69.26 per barrel.

That helped drive energy stocks in the S&P 500 to a 2 percent gain, the largest among the 11 sectors that make up the index. They're at their highest level since the end of 2016.

Anadarko Petroleum had one of the biggest gains in the index after jumping $3.09, or 5.6 percent, to $58.50.

The stock market has repeatedly shrugged off concerns through its placid ride to records. Whether investors are worried about a pickup in rates in the future or about how stocks have become more expensive than usual, any dip for the market over the last year has been shallow and short.

That's rewarded investors who have repeatedly "bought the dip" and seen every wobble in prices as a buying opportunity. The next test for the market may arrive in coming weeks as companies report how much profit they made in the last three months of 2017.

Businesses will need to produce strong growth to justify the gains their stocks have made, and expectations are also high that CEOs will unveil encouraging profit forecasts for 2018 after Washington cut their income-tax rates.

In markets abroad, Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.3 percent, South Korea's Kospi retreated 0.5 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index edged 0.2 percent higher.

Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.2 percent, France's CAC 40 was down 0.3 percent and Germany's DAX dipped 0.6 percent.

The dollar dipped to 111.09 Japanese yen from 111.35 late Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.2036 from $1.1957, and the British pound rose to $1.3536 from $1.3509.

In the commodities markets, gold gained $3.20 to settle at $1,322.50 per ounce, silver lost 7 cents to $16.97 per ounce and copper rose 2 cents to $3.23 per pound.

Natural gas rose 18 cents to settle at $3.08 per 1,000 cubic feet, heating oil was nearly flat at $2.08 per gallon and wholesale gasoline was steady at $1.84 per gallon.

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