U.S. stocks inched higher Thursday as smaller retailers and banks traded higher and energy companies rose with fuel prices. Once again, the market was unable to hang on to more substantial gains from earlier in the day.
Strong reports from companies including L Brands and Bed Bath & Beyond helped retailers. Energy companies rose with the prices of oil and natural gas, and banks recovered some of the sharp losses they took a day ago.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose as much as 98 points early in the afternoon. However high-dividend stocks like utilities skidded and technology companies also fell.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 4.54 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,357.49. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 14.80 points, or 0.1 percent, to 20,662.95.
The Nasdaq composite gained 14.47 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,878.95. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks performed far better. It climbed 12.28 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,364.43.
About three-fourths of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange rose Thursday, but stocks are mostly down this week. The Russell 2000 has fallen 1.6 percent.
Investors will get an updated picture of the economy in the coming weeks, including the government’s March report on employment Friday. Next week, the Commerce Department will give a report on retailer sales and companies including JPMorgan Chase, Delta Air Lines and Netflix will report their earnings.
L Brands jumped $4.75, or 11 percent, to $47.85 after it reported strong March sales. Bed Bath & Beyond surpassed analysts’ earnings estimates and climbed $1.28, or 3.4 percent, to $39.08. Department stores and mall-based retailers like Kohl’s, Nordstrom and Gap traded higher. Discount retailers Fred’s and Five Below made hefty gains after Fred’s announced its own quarterly results.
Bond prices recovered from an early decline. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note stayed at 2.34 percent. Companies that pay big dividends, like phone companies and utilities, traded lower. Investors often sell those stocks when bond yields rise, as they did earlier in the day.
U.S. crude oil added 55 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $51.70 a barrel in New York while Brent crude, the international standard, rose 53 cents, or 1 percent, to $54.89 a barrel in London.
Sunoco climbed after it agreed to sell most of its convenience stores to 7-Eleven. Sunoco will get $3.3 billion and 7-Eleven will acquire 1,100 stores, mostly in the East Coast and Texas. Sunoco also struck a fuel supply deal with a 7-Eleven subsidiary and it plans to sell 200 more convenience stores in a separate deal. Shares of Sunoco jumped $4.83, or 20.2 percent, to $28.69.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline added 1 cent to $1.73 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.61 per gallon. Natural gas jumped 7 cents, or 2 percent, to $3.33 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Gold rose $4.80 to $1,253.30 an ounce. Silver added 6 cents to $18.25 an ounce.