Wall Street gains on Fed hopes

Yellen's defence of stimulus puts Dow, S&P on track for fresh record highs.

The Dow industrials advanced toward new all-time highs after the nominee to head the Federal Reserve defended the central bank's economic stimulus efforts, though weak earnings from Cisco Systems weighed on technology stocks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 48 points, or 0.3%, to 15,869 points.

The S&P 500 index gained seven points, or 0.4%, to 1,789 points. Both indexes were on course finish at record levels.

The tech-oriented Nasdaq Composite Index, however, fell one point, or 0.1%, to 3,965 points.

Investors focused on Fed vice chairwoman Janet Yellen, President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the central bank after Ben Bernanke steps down in January, for signals about Fed policy.

Ms Yellen said in a hearing on her nomination before the Senate Banking Committee that there are dangers to ending the central bank's $US85 billion-a-month bond-buying program too soon, an assurance to investors that few big policy changes are on the way. The Fed's bond-buying program is widely credited for helping to enable the S&P 500's 25% gain in 2013.

"In her first test before the Senate she's come across clear and concise and saying what we expected," said Yousef Abbasi, New York-based market strategist at brokerage JonesTrading Institutional Services.

Agam Kothari, director of equity trading at Citigroup, said that trading has been quiet in recent days, but that investors could be drawn to the stock market in the weeks ahead with few obstacles on the horizon.

"With the Yellen testimony out of the way, the market is going to be more comfortable putting capital to work," he said. "Now there isn't much on the calendar, and it looks like smooth sailing until the next [jobs] report early next month."

Technology stocks were the only market sector to lose ground after poor quarterly results from Cisco. Shares of the network-equipment maker slid after the company reported late Wednesday that its profit dropped 4.6% from a year earlier and revenue growth missed expectations. Cisco also issued a downbeat outlook for the current quarter.

Hewlett-Packard fell after the company said that it, with Google, will halt sales of the HP Chromebook 11 after reports that some chargers included with the small computers are overheating. Google rose slightly.

Wal-Mart Stores recouped an early stock decline to edge higher after the retailing giant's revenue came in below forecasts. The company narrowed its full-year earnings guidance after same-store sales in the third quarter slipped.

Kohl's fell after posting a third-quarter earnings decline of 18% as the department-store chain reported missed Wall Street earnings and revenue guidance.

Some investors said they are skeptical that the stocks can continue their blistering rise without first taking a stumble.

Cameron Hinds, regional chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, said he has been encouraging clients to pare back on high-flying segments of their portfolios, like large US stocks.

"I think most people understand that we're overdue for a correction," he said.

Initial claims for jobless benefits increased to 339,000 in the latest week, down from a revised 341,000 a week prior. Weekly jobless claims have been falling since early last month, though last week's reading was higher than forecast.

In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 gained 0.8%, after shedding 1.2% over the previous two sessions. Third-quarter gross domestic product in the euro zone expanded just 0.1% from the previous quarter, down from 0.3% growth in the second quarter.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei Stock Average surged 2.1% to nearly a six-month high. Third-quarter Japanese GDP grew at an annualized rate of 1.9%, topping expectations of 1.7%. China's Shanghai Composite rose 0.6%.

Front-month December crude oil futures slipped 0.1% to $93.85 a barrel. Gold futures climbed 1.5% to $1,287.20 a troy ounce after settling Wednesday at a one-month low.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note inched lower, to 2.724% from 2.728% late Wednesday, as prices rose.

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