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Banks and other financial companies give boost to US stocks

Banks and other financial companies have led US stocks upwards, nudging the Nasdaq composite index to an all-time high.

Rising bond yields, which can result in higher interest rates on loans and bigger profits for banks, helped put traders in the mood to buy banking stocks.

Energy companies also notched gains as crude oil prices rose. Utilities and other high-dividend stocks fell.

Investors also bid up shares in companies that released strong quarterly results or announced big transactions.

ConocoPhillips jumped 8.8% after the energy company agreed to sell most of its Canadian assets.

"Equities are ending the first quarter in a reasonably good place," said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at US Bank Wealth Management.

"I do think equities trend sideways, probably for the next month. The rally since the election has centred around improved sentiment regarding tax reform and infrastructure spending, and that's still a work in progress."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 69.17 points, or 0.3%, to 20,728.49.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 6.93 points, or 0.3%, to 2,368.06. The Nasdaq gained 16.80 points, or 0.3%, to 5,914.34.

Small-company stocks fared better than the other indexes, sending the Russell 2000 index up 10.70 points, or 0.8%, to 1,382.35. The four stock indexes last set record highs on March 1.

Bond prices edged lower while the 10-year Treasury yield rose to 2.41% from 2.38% late on Wednesday.

Trading was mostly subdued at the start of trading on Thursday following mixed action in overseas markets.

But soon investors got another batch of encouraging economic news as the Commerce Department raised its estimate for economic growth in the fourth quarter to 2.1% from 1.9%, noting that consumer spending increased more than expected.

And the Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits dipped slightly last week.

The latest economic data followed positive reports on consumer confidence and housing earlier this week.

"Today's action and the little bit of strength we've seen the past couple of days is maybe investors focusing a little bit more on fundamentals and the fact that the economy and earnings are in the same trajectory as they were two weeks ago when the markets were at all-time highs, and we're slightly below that," said Sean Lynch, co-head of global equity strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

AP

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