Good News on Economy Pushes Stocks to Record Highs

NEW YORK (AP) -

More encouraging economic news and friendly signals from the Federal Reserve cheered investors on Thursday, as the stock market climbed to another record high.

The gains came a day after the Fed made clear that it’s in no hurry to raise a key bank lending rate, easing a major concern for the stock market.

Eight of 10 industry groups in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose, led by financial stocks.

Two of three major U.S. indexes finished at all-time highs: The S&P 500 index gained 9.79 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,011.36, while the Dow surged 109.14 points, or 0.6 percent, to 17,265.99. It was the second straight day the blue-chip index has closed at a record.

The Nasdaq composite, meanwhile climbed 31.24 points, or 0.7 percent, to 4,593.43, well below its dot-com era peak.

The S&P Financials sector rose 1.1 percent. Bank profits could rise if short-term rates stay low while the rates they charge on longer-term loans creep higher.

The day began with good news about the economy. Fewer Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department. Weekly applications fell to 280,000, well below economists’ forecasts. The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, also dropped.

Major markets in Europe headed higher as voters in Scotland decided whether to break from the United Kingdom. Germany’s DAX advanced 1.4 percent, and France’s CAC 40 gained 0.8 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 added 0.6 percent.

The pound was trading at a two-year high against the euro at €1.27, and holding steady against the dollar at $1.64.

Among companies making big moves on Thursday, Rite Aid plunged 19 percent after it cut its profit forecasts for the full year, laying part of the blame on higher costs for generic drugs. The drugstore chain still expects sales of $26 billion this year. Rite Aid’s stock fell $1.23 to $5.41.

ConAgra said its quarterly profits nearly tripled, sending its stock up $1.47, or 5 percent, to $33.48. Sales for the company behind Chef Boyardee canned pasta and Hebrew National hot dogs were flat, but other costs fell.

In commodity trading, prices for precious and industrial metals fell broadly. Gold dropped $9 to settle at $1,226.90 an ounce, and silver sank 22 cents to $18.52. Copper dropped 5 cents to $3.09.

The price of oil fell on expectations of a quick return of Libyan production and continuing signals of lower global demand. Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.35 to close at $93.07 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.27 to close at $97.70 in London.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline fell 0.8 cent to close at $2.561 a gallon. Heating oil fell 3.3 cents to $2.712 a gallon. Natural gas fell 10.3 cents to $3.910 per 1,000 cubic feet.