Energy stocks lead the way as Wall Street index inches closer to record

Rising energy stocks helped nudge the Standard & Poor's 500 close to its record high, but drops for smaller stocks left Wall Street indexes mixed yesterday.

Markets around the world were broadly higher as investors got more evidence that the global economy is strengthening and corporate profits are climbing.

The Federal Reserve said the US economy is rising "at a solid rate," even with damage from recent hurricanes, as it announced a decision to hold interest rates steady at their low levels.

The S&P 500 rose 4.10 points, or 0.2%, to 2,579.36. Earlier in the day, it had climbed above its record closing high of 2,581.07 set last week.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 57.77 points, or 0.3%, to 23,435.01. Other US indexes weakened. The Nasdaq composite fell 11.14 points, or 0.2%, to 6,716.53. The small-cap Russell 2000 index lost 10.00 points, or 0.7%, to 1,492.78.

Energy stocks led the market, and those in the S&P 500 rose 1.1% for the biggest gain among the sectors that make up the index. They climbed after the price of oil topped 55 dollars per barrel to touch its highest level since January 3, though it backtracked as the day went on.

Estee Lauder jumped to the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after strong sales growth in China and Hong Kong helped it to report a bigger profit than analysts expected. It rose 10.31 dollars, or 9.2%, to 122.12 dollars.

The cosmetics giant joined the growing list of companies that beat analysts' expectations for earnings in the most recent quarter. Nearly two thirds of companies in the S&P 500 have said how they performed from July through September, and the majority have topped Wall Street's forecasts.

They have been reaping better revenue and profits as the economy strengthens, and a report on Thursday showed that private employers added more jobs last month than economists expected. It raises expectations that Friday's more comprehensive jobs report from the government will be strong too.

"What we've been waiting for the last five-plus years is stronger economic growth leading to better employment numbers, or one feeding into the other, and leading to stronger wage growth," said Jon Mackay, investment strategist at Schroders.

"We just haven't seen the wage growth part of it, but now we're seeing the wage growth start to tick through."

Other economies around the world are also improving in sync, which further raises optimism.

"Globally, it tends to have a self-reinforcing effect," Mr Mackay said.

"People buy more goods from the US, emerging-market economies do better, banks have the capacity to lend more, and that leads to more capital spending and more consumer spending. At some point, it becomes overdone, but we're not anywhere close to that yet."

With the economy improving, the Federal Reserve has been slowly increasing interest rates from their record low. On Thursday, it decided to hold rates steady, but most economists expect it to raise them at its next meeting in December.

The weakest part of the stock market on Thursday was smaller stocks. They have generally been rising and falling in recent weeks with expectations that Congress will be able to overhaul the tax system and cut rates. Smaller companies often pay higher tax rates than their bigger rivals.


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