Stocks gain; JC Penney and Kohl's climb

STEVE ROTHWELL AP Markets Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks rose in afternoon trading Thursday, pushing the Standard & Poor's 500 into record territory again, as investors responded to encouraging results from several retailers and analyzed comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. J.C. Penney and Kohl's were among the gainers.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up eight points, or 0.4 percent, at 1,853 as of 2:23 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 72 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,270. The Nasdaq composite rose 28 points, or 0.7 percent, to 4,320.

THE FED: Yellen, the Fed chair, told the Senate Banking Committee that some recent economic data have suggested sluggish growth in consumer spending and employment. She said the Fed will be watching to see if the slowdown proves to be a temporary blip caused by severe winter weather.

TURNING IT AROUND: J.C. Penney jumped $1.52, or 26 percent, to $7.49 after the department store chain swung to a small profit in the fourth quarter after posting a big loss in the same period a year earlier. Penney also reported its first quarterly gain in a key revenue figure in more than two years.

TURNING IT AROUND (2): Sears climbed $3.18, or 7.9 percent, to $43.58 after the company said its fourth-quarter loss narrowed. The operator of Sears and Kmart stores lowered expenses and reduced inventories. Sears has been trying to restore profitability by cutting costs, trimming inventory, selling off some assets and spinning off others.

MORE RETAIL NEWS: Kohl's rose $1.78, 3.3 percent, to $56.22 after the department store operator reported earnings that topped analysts' estimates. Revenue fell but met Wall Street's expectations.

INVESTIGATION: General Motors fell 25 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $36.58 after the U.S. government's auto safety watchdog said it is investigating whether the automaker acted quickly enough to recall 1.6 million older-model small cars in a case linked to 13 deaths.

MIXED ECONOMY: American businesses ordered fewer long-lasting manufactured goods in January, cutting their demand for aircraft, autos and machinery. But a key category that reflects business investment rose a solid 1.7 percent. Demand rose for electronic products and fabricated metals, such as steel.

STILL GOOD FOR STOCKS: The current environment of moderately improving growth and low interest rates still make it an attractive environment for investing in stocks, said Dan Curtin, an investment specialist at JPMorgan Private Bank.

"The data points that we are seeing, although slightly weaker than we might have thought, are still positive for equity valuations," said Curtin.

BONDS AND COMMODITIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.66 percent from 2.67 percent on Wednesday. The price of oil fell 40 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $102.17 a barrel. The price of gold climbed $3.80, or 0.3 percent, to $1,331.80 an ounce.