U.S. stock indexes inched further into record territory Wednesday after AT&T, Boeing and others joined the parade of big companies reporting stronger profits than analysts expected. Stocks that pay big dividends were particularly strong after the Federal Reserve took a pause in its slow-moving campaign to lift interest rates, as Treasury yields sank lower.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged up by 0.70 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 2,477.83, adding a whisper to its record high a day earlier.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 97.58 points, or 0.5 percent, to 21,711.01, and the Nasdaq composite rose 10.57 points, or 0.2 percent, to 6,422.75. Both are at record highs. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dipped 8.11 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,442.28, and the New York Stock Exchange was nearly evenly split between stocks that rose and fell.
While announcing its decision to hold short-term rates steady, the Federal Reserve said that it may begin paring the massive $4.5 trillion balance sheet it built up following the financial crisis “relatively soon,” which some analysts took to mean as September. The Fed also said that inflation looks to remain below its target of 2 percent in the near term.
After the Fed’s report, drops for Treasury yields accelerated, and the 10-year yield fell to 2.29 percent from 2.33 percent Tuesday. The two-year yield sank to 1.35 percent from 1.39 percent.
Lower bond yields make the dividends paid by stocks more attractive, and the biggest dividend payers picked up momentum following the Fed’s announcement. Utility stocks in the S&P 500 climbed 0.9 percent, for example, more than doubling their gain after the Fed’s decision.
The best-performing area of the market was the telecom sector, which jumped after AT&T reported stronger second-quarter earnings than Wall Street had forecast. Its stock rose $1.81, or 5 percent, to $38.03.
Boeing was the top-performing stock, and it had its best day in more than eight years after it raised its forecast for earnings this year and reported better-than-expected earnings for the second quarter. It jumped $20.99, or 9.9 percent, to $233.45.
AT&T and Boeing were only the latest companies to report healthier profits for the April-through-June quarter than analysts expected.
The S&P 500 is already up nearly 11 percent for the year on the expectation that corporate profits will continue to rise, and the stronger profits help to validate the big gains.
In overseas markets, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index climbed 0.5 percent, South Korea’s Kospi index slipped 0.2 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index added 0.3 percent. France’s CAC 40 rose 0.6 percent, the FTSE 100 in London gained 0.2 percent .
Benchmark U.S. crude topped $48 per barrel for the first time in seven weeks. It climbed 86 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $48.75 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 77 cents to $50.97 per barrel.
Natural gas fell 2 cents to $2.92 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline rose 2 cents to $1.62 a gallon, and heating oil rose 3 cents to $1.60 a gallon.
Gold lost $2.70 to $1,249.40 an ounce. Silver fell 8 cents to $16.46 an ounce. Copper gained 3 cents to $2.87 a pound.
The dollar dipped to 111350 Japanese yen from 111.89 yen late Tuesday. The euro rose to $1.1725 from $1.1652, and the British pound rose to $1.3100 from $1.3037.