Investors stayed upbeat Friday, pushing U.S. stock indexes deeper into record territory.
Stocks climbed to all-time highs for the third straight day as investors assessed the prospect for further economic stimulus from the Federal Reserve.
Agilent Technologies, which makes scientific instruments, was the biggest gainer in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index after reporting earnings that exceeded analysts’ expectations. Exxon Mobil rose after billionaire Warren Buffett’s company disclosed late Thursday that it had taken a stake in the oil company.
The S&P 500 has advanced for six straight weeks, part of an impressive rise this year. The index is up 26.1 percent so far. If it ends 2013 with a gain that big it would be the best performance in a decade.
Several factors have been driving the market higher this year. The Federal Reserve has kept up its extraordinary efforts to stimulate the economy. And although the U.S. economy’s recovery has been plodding, it has been strong enough to enable corporations to keep increasing profits.
“It’s bland, it’s vanilla, but it’s sweet,” said John Manley, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Fund Management.
Despite the surge, stock prices remain reasonable compared with earnings, Manley said. Stock valuations are “not cheap, but they’re not prohibitive,” he said.
The ratio of stock prices to forecast earnings for S&P 500 companies is currently 15, according to data from FactSet. That’s slightly below the average ratio of 16.2 over the last 15 years and far below the peak of 25 recorded in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The S&P 500 added 7.56 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,798.18. All 10 of the industry groups in the S&P 500 rose.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 85.48 points, or 0.5 percent, to 15,961.70. The Nasdaq composite rose 13.23 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,985.97.
Agilent jumped $4.39, or 8.7 percent, to $54.93. Exxon Mobil, a member of the Dow, rose $2.05, or 2.2 percent, to $95.27.
Investors may be getting more comfortable with the prospect of the Fed cutting back on its stimulus as long as the economy is also improving, said Jim Dunigan, a managing executive at PNC Wealth Management.
“The path of least resistance (for stocks) seems to be higher right now,” Dunigan said.
The stock market’s biggest setbacks this year have come when investors worried that Fed policy makers were close to paring their $85 billion per month in bond purchases, which are intended to keep interest rates low. But Fed vice chairwoman Janet Yellen, nominated to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman, testified this week that she was inclined to keep the stimulus going and was chiefly concerned about unemployment.
Among other stocks making big moves:
— Zulily surged in its first day as a publicly traded company. The Seattle-based online retailer of baby products jumped $15.70, or 71 percent, to $37.70.
— Vanda Pharmaceuticals soared $1.55, or 12 percent, to $14.59 after FDA advisers recommended approval for the company’s potential sleep disorder drug tasimelteon.
— Western Union fell 75 cents, or 4.3 percent, to $16.70 after the money-transfer company said late Thursday that its longtime chief financial officer would step down.
In stocks of regional interest:
Capitol Federal Financial fell 2 cents, or 0.16%, to close at $12.30.
Cerner Corp. rose 25 cents, or 0.44%, to close at $57.34.
Commerce Bancshares Inc. fell 12 cents, or 0.25%, to close at $47.04.
Compass Minerals fell 1 cents, or 0.01%, to close at $73.09.
DST Systems Inc. rose 33 cents, or 0.38%, to close at $87.32.
Ferrellgas Partners L.P. rose 2 cents, or 0.08%, to close at $23.96.
Garmin Ltd. rose $1.44, or 3.11%, to close at $47.77.
Great Plains Energy rose 2 cents, or 0.08%, to close at $24.53.
H&R Block Inc. rose 33 cents, or 1.17%, to close at $28.50.
Kansas City Life Insurance Co. rose $1.30, or 2.79%, to close at $47.90.
Kansas City Southern fell 18 cents, or 0.14%, to close at $125.02.
O’Reilly Automotive Inc. rose 60 cents, or 0.48%, to close at $126.22.
Sprint Corp. rose 31 cents, or 4.36%, to close at $7.42.
UMB Financial Corp. fell 17 cents, or 0.27%, to close at $61.86.
Waddell & Reed Financial Corp. rose 14 cents, or 0.21%, to close at $65.47.
YRC Worldwide Inc. fell 47 cents, or 5.96%, to close at $7.41.