U.S. stocks logged a second straight day of gains Thursday, pushing the S&P 500 to a fresh 5-year closing high. But investors are still cautious ahead of a slew of earnings reports next week.
The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 0.6% and S&P 500 gained 0.8%, closing at its highest level since December 2007. The Nasdaq edged up 0.5%. Financials were among the biggest winners, with Bank of America ( and )JPMorgan Chase ( leading the gains on the Dow. )
But there was little in the way of new data to move stocks Thursday. While companies have begun to open their books, it's premature to make a bold declaration about how well companies did in the fourth quarter and what their outlooks will be like.
"We've got some positive surprises, but there's still a lot of uncertainty about what exactly the global economy looks like," said Kim Forrest, senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital. "We've got to hear from the larger global companies like General Electric ( to get a better sense of where the economy is headed." )
Overall, analysts expect earnings for companies in the S&P 500 to grow 2.4% year-over-year, according to FactSet Research, with banks expected to lead the way. Wells Fargo ( reports results Friday. It's the first large bank to release its earnings. )
But after the closing bell Thursday, American Express ( announced it was cutting 5,400 jobs. The credit card giant also said that earnings for the fourth quarter would be better than expected. )
In other corporate news, Supervalu ( reported that it swung to a profit during its fiscal third quarter. The grocery store operator also announced that it will sell Jewel-Osco, Albertson's and some of its chains to Cerberus Capital Management, a New York-based investment firm, for $3.3 billion. Shares of Supervalu surged. )
Shares of Nokia ( rallied after the phone company reported )better-than-expected sales for its handset business.
Nutritional supplement company Herbalife ( hosted an investor conference to rebut charges from hedge fund manager ) Bill Ackman that it's running a pyramid scheme. Herbalife executives were confident in the company's defense, saying it's a "legitimate company with legitimate customers." The stock had a volatile day, finishing down nearly 2%.
Shares of Tiffany & Co ( declined after the luxury retailer said sales during the holiday season rose just 4% worldwide, at the low-end of the company's expectations. Tiffany said it now expects its full-year profit to be at the lower end of its prior forecast. The company also said earnings growth in 2013 will be subdued due to uncertainty about the economy in all of its major markets. )
Investors also digested fresh data on the labor market Thursday. The number of people filing for initial jobless claims rose 4,000 to 371,000 in the latest week.
A separate report showed that wholesale inventories rose 0.6% in November, which was higher than expected.
European markets finished mixed. The FTSE 100 gained ground, but Germany's DAX and France's CAC 40 ended in the red. Both the European Central Bank and the Bank of England held interest rates at record lows on Thursday morning.
The dollar fell against the euro and the pound, but gained ground versus the Japanese yen.
Oil and gold prices rose.
The price of the 10-year Treasury declined, pushing the yield up to 1.90% from 1.85% late Wednesday.