After Market: Everybody Loves Yellen; S&P 500 Finally Breaks Record

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is 2-for-2 as far as investors are concerned, and the S&P 500 on Thursday finally found the momentum to crack its previous record close.

Yellen told a Senate panel that the economy has softened a bit since her upbeat comments two weeks ago sparked the strongest rally of the year. But she said it's not yet clear how much of that deterioration is due to the weather, and investors wore their rose colored glasses when viewing her comments.

Thus, after several failed attempts to close at a record high this week, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) finally got there, rising 9 points to topping the mark it set about six weeks ago. The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) gained 74 points, and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) rose 27.

Some retail stocks that had been left for dead not that long ago helped lead the rally. J.C. Penney (JCP) surged 25 percent. The company's loss narrowed from a year ago and it forecast a modest sales gain for the current quarter. The company says its turnaround plan is regaining the confidence of shoppers, but Penney's shares are still down 65 percent over the past year. Sears (SHLD), which has also struggled to attract shoppers, rose 6 percent. It posted a big quarterly loss and big drop in sales, but the results weren't as bad as expected.

Best Buy (BBY), however, gave up early gains to close 1 percent lower, after easily topping expectations. Despite some troubles over the past few months, Best Buy shares have gained 53 percent over the past year.

Among large-cap stocks, Verizon (VZ) rose 2.5 percent after Morgan Stanley resumed its overweight rating. And Apple (AAPL) gained 2 percent, recouping most of its losses from earlier in the week.

There was some weakness in the energy sector. Valero (VLO) fell 4 percent, Marathon Petroleum (MPC) lost 4½ percent, and Phillips 66 (PSX) fell 2.5 percent. But Pacific Ethanol (PEIX) rallied 65 percent after easily beating earnings expectations.

Also reacting to earnings today:

  • The for-profit education company Career Education (CECO) rose 17 percent.

  • Taser (TASR) gained 8 percent.

  • And generic drug maker Mylan (MYL) rose 9.5 percent.

What to Watch Friday:

  • The Commerce Department releases fourth-quarter gross domestic product at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.

  • The Institute For Supply Management-Chicago releases its purchasing managers index for February at 9:45 a.m.

  • At 10 a.m., the University of Michigan releases its final survey of consumer sentiment for February, and the National Association of Realtors releases pending homes sales for January.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.