NEW YORK - The Dow and S&P 500 scaled fresh heights on Thursday, boosted by better than expected results from Morgan Stanley and United Health, while investors looked to a second day of congressional testimony by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Shares of Morgan Stanley (MS) surged 4.1 percent to $27.64 after the bank reported stronger-than-expected adjusted quarterly profit as revenue grew in all its major businesses.
A jump in shares of UnitedHealth (UNH) helped boost the Dow and other health insurers. UnitedHealth was up 5.7 percent at $70.03 after the company's results beat expectations, while the S&P health sector gained 0.4 percent.
Analysts' estimates for company earnings have been lowered so much that investors believe the low targets should be easily exceeded. Instead, investors will likely zero in on revenue figures and outlooks.
"Expectations on earnings have been driven down so much that they're pretty easy hurdles to surpass and most companies have done that," said Alan Lancz, president at Alan B. Lancz & Associates Inc in Toledo, Ohio.
Under that scenario, the path of least resistance for the stock market is higher, said Lancz.
IBM raised its full-year outlook and reported earnings that beat estimates, though the company missed on revenue. Shares of International Business Machines (IBM) rose 2.1 percent to $198.52.
Analysts expect S&P 500 companies' second-quarter earnings to have grown 3.3 percent from a year earlier, with revenue up 1.2 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 77.78 points or 0.5 percent, to 15,548.3, the S&P 500 gained 8.07 points or 0.48 percent, to 1,688.98 and the Nasdaq Composite added 6.27 points or 0.17 percent, to 3,616.27.
Both the Dow and S&P hit new intraday highs shortly after the opening bell.
But gains on the Nasdaq were capped as shares of eBay slumped 6.7 percent to $53.52 after the company said full-year results would be at the low end of its forecast range, while Intel tumbled 2.9 percent to $23.45 after it cut its full-year revenue forecast.
A meeting of Dell (DELL) shareholders to vote on founder Michael Dell's $24.4 billion offer to take the company private was adjourned to next week. Dell's stock rose 2.2 percent to $13.17.
With the benchmark S&P up nearly 18 percent for the year, investors are alert to any signs of how soon the Federal Reserve will start to wind down the pace of its $85-billion monthly bond purchases, a key driver of the equity market rally this year.
Speaking before Congress on Wednesday, Bernanke stressed the timeline for winding down the Fed's stimulus program was not set in stone. His remarks helped Wall Street end modestly higher.
The Fed chairman will appear for a second day of testimony before the Senate Banking Committee at 10:30 am EDT (1430 GMT).
Invest Like a Cicada: 5 Stocks to Buy and Hold Until 2030
Dow, S&P Hit New Intraday Highs on Strong Earnings
Ford has been making cars through a fair number of cicada emergence cycles, and that's not going to change. Cars will naturally look materially different in 17 years; by then, it wouldn't be a shock to see self-driving cars in widespread use. Ford should continue to have a major role in the industry.
Naturally, there may be trends moving away from automobiles in general. The urbanization trend -- which features people flocking back to metropolitan areas where mass transit makes car ownership less important -- will likely continue. U.S. automakers may also continue to lose market share to overseas rivals.
However, it's hard to bet against Ford. Remember, Ford was the only major U.S. automaker to avoid the government's bailout in 2009, proving its mettle during tough times.
This pick will be controversial given the way that Apple's stock has been beaten down since peaking late last year. But the consumer tech giant is a survivor.
Since the last Brood II invasion we saw the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, and the iPad in 2010. Yes, Steve Jobs is gone, but denying Apple its historical bent to raise the bar in consumer electronics would be a costly mistake. Apple will find a way to innovate its way to growth and margin expansion.
Walmart's size endows it with pricing advantages that it passes on to its customers, giving the discount department store chain and edge that can't be matched. The future may find online retail and digital delivery eating into its share of some product categories. But at the end of the day, you don't bet against Walmart's ability to provide goods at prices that free shoppers to spend more on other things.
Despite remarkable changes in the world, some things have stayed constant from one cicada infestation to the next. Soap is still soap. Toilet paper is still toilet paper. Toothpaste is still toothpaste. And that probably won't change between now and 2030.
Procter & Gamble is home to large pantry of household brands that consumer know all too well. From Crest toothpaste to Bounty paper towels, it's hard to escape Procter & Gamble's reach. Some of its billion-dollar brands -- in other words, products that generate at least a billion dollars in annual sales -- include Pampers baby diapers, Duracell batteries, and Charmin toilet paper.
Its portfolio of products is so diversified that Procter & Gamble can weather the rare innovations that make a particular category obsolete. Along the way, patient investors get rewarded. Procter & Gamble has increased its dividend in each of the past 57 years.
The House of Mouse has been the undisputed champ of family entertainment for decades, but it's not something that Disney has taken for granted. Disney bought Capital Cities/ABC in 1995, a year before the last periodical cicada wave. It was a major purchase, and perhaps more for landing ESPN than ABC.
However, since the last Brood II emergence, the media giant has snapped up Pixar, Marvel, and most recently Lucasfilm to beef up its library of magnetic characters that it can build on through its cable properties, theme parks, and merchandising initiatives.
The way children consume media has evolved dramatically over the years, but digital media has presented new ways for Disney to cash in on the incessant appetite for family-friendly entertainment.
Besides, if there's a movie to be made that transforms cicadas into endearing insects in an animated theatrical release, it would be probably be Disney's handiwork.