US stocks inch to record highs as reports show improving economy

US stock indexes have inched to record highs after a late-afternoon push erased losses from earlier in the day.

It caps the fourth straight week of gains for the Standard & Poor's 500 index, its longest such streak since July.

Reports through the week showed that the economy is improving and corporate profits are growing more quickly than analysts expected.

The encouraging data, along with hopes for lower taxes and other business-friendly policies from Washington, pushed the S&P 500 to a 1.5% rise last week, its best weekly performance since the first week of January.

The S&P 500 rose 3.94 points on Friday, or 0.2%, to 2,351.16.

The Dow Jones industrial average edged up by 4.28 points, less than 0.1%, to 20,624.05 and also set a record. The Nasdaq rose 23.68, or 0.4%, to 5,838.58, its own all-time high.

Slightly more stocks fell than rose on the New York Stock Exchange.

The last two days have been lacklustre for stocks, with the S&P 500 dipping on Thursday, in comparison to the strong run they had been on.

That slowdown was more a result of investors looking to cash in some profits than on any fear or need to get out of the market, said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade.

"People don't want unnecessary risk heading into a three-day weekend," he said. "This is more about taking off risk than about aggressive selling."

US markets will be closed on Monday for Presidents Day.

Mr Kinahan pointed to relative calmness in the markets for the VIX index, which measures expectations for upcoming volatility in the S&P 500, and for gold, a traditional landing spot when investors are nervous.

Kraft Heinz surged to the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after it made an offer to buy European consumer goods giant Unilever.

Unilever rejected the bid, which offered 18% more than where Unilever's shares closed on Thursday, and called it too low.

Kraft Heinz, which is behind the Lunchables and Oscar Mayer brands, jumped 9.37 dollars, or 10.7%, to 96.65.

US-listed shares of Unilever, which sells Breyers ice cream and Dove soap, surged 5.96 dollars, or 14%, to 48.53.

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