Belfast Telegraph

Gains for banks and materials firms lead US stocks to all-time highs

Major US stock indexes have again set all-time highs after the market built on a surge the previous day.

Banks continued to lead the way as bond yields jumped, and small-company stocks soared again.

Bond yields in the US and Europe, particularly in heavily indebted countries, jumped after the European Central Bank surprised investors by saying it will reduce the size of its monthly bond purchases.

That sent interest rates higher, which makes it more profitable for banks to lend money.

Energy companies rose with the price of oil, and companies that make chemicals and other basic materials also climbed.

Industrial companies and makers of household goods slipped, which held stocks back from even larger gains.

"Bond yields are creeping higher as these central banks are easing off the pedal a bit," said John Canally, an investment strategist for LPL Financial.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 65.19 points, or 0.3%, to 19614.81. It rose as much as 115 points at around 2pm. The Standard & Poor's 500 index picked up 4.84 points, or 0.2%, to 2246.19.

The Nasdaq composite had lagged behind the other major indexes over the last two weeks, but it rebounded along with technology companies and rose 23.59 points, or 0.4%, to 5417.36.

The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks jumped 21.87 points, or 1.6%, to 1386.37.

The European Central Bank (ECB) extended its bond-buying economic stimulus programme, as investors expected.

It will spend about 579 billion US dollars (£460 billion) through the end of 2017 - but starting in March it will begin spending less on bonds.

While the bank said it is not getting ready to phase out its stimulus programme, Mr Canally, of LPL Financial, said investors are starting to think about the time when the ECB will gradually stop buying bonds and will start raising interest rates in response to a healthier economy.

"(It's) a big 180 from where we were a couple of months ago, where the market was pricing in negative rates for a long period of time," he said.

Government bond prices in Spain, Italy and Portugal fell, and yields rose sharply.

US government bond prices also fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.41% from 2.34%.

That drove bank stocks up since higher interest rates will allow banks to charge more for lending money.

Goldman Sachs, which has surged 33% since the presidential election and is trading near its all-time high, rose 2.5% to 241.45 dollars (£191) and Bank of America picked up 1.7% to 22.95 dollars (£18).

European stocks climbed for the second day in a row. Germany's Dax jumped 1.8% and French CAC 40 added 0.9%. The FTSE 100 in Britain rose 0.4%.

The dollar rose to 114.20 yen from 113.85 yen. The euro slipped to 1.0603 dollars from 1.0759 dollars.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 surged 1.5% and the Kospi in South Korea jumped 2%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 0.3%.