NEW YORK (May 31): The Dow and the S&P 500 edged up to end at record highs on Friday, wrapping up four straight months of gains, after mixed economic data gave investors little reason to rush into stocks.

After the benchmark S&P 500’s latest record closing high - its fourth in the last five sessions – gains may be harder to come by until the market’s direction becomes more clear. Payrolls data and a European Central Bank meeting will be the major catalysts next week.

U.S. consumer spending fell for the first time in a year in April, but the decline probably will not change expectations for a rebound in growth this quarter. An inflation gauge rose at its quickest pace since November 2012 while business activity in the U.S. Midwest rose in May at its strongest pace since October 2013.

“Very mixed signals, which prevents bears from getting aggressive and keeps bulls in place. It’s effectively forestalled any real significant directional shift to what we’ve seen thus far,” said Peter Kenny, chief executive officer of Clearpool Group in New York.

“This is an unusual time and place in the market, in that we are in a real holding pattern, and the markets are looking for more in the way of confirmation in the way of economic data that suggests our economic activity is accelerating.”

Equity investors kept an eye on U.S. Treasury yields. The 10-year note’s yield rose after the strong Chicago PMI data, but remained below 2.5 percent, near an 11-month low hit during Thursday’s session.

The low yields helped to bolster dividend-paying stocks. High-yielding utilities ranked as the best-performing S&P sector on Friday, up 0.8 percent for the day.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 18.43 points or 0.11 percent, to 16,717.17. The S&P 500 gained 3.54 points or 0.18 percent, to 1,923.57. The Nasdaq Composite fell 5.33 points or 0.13 percent, to 4,242.62.

Friday’s gain lifted the Dow above its previous record close of 16,715.44 set on May 13.

For the week, the Dow rose 0.7 percent, the S&P 500 gained 1.2 percent, and the Nasdaq climbed 1.4 percent.

The Dow gained 0.8 percent for May and the S&P 500 rose 2.1 percent, marking the fourth straight month of gains for both indexes. The Nasdaq, up 3.1 percent, scored its first monthly gain in three.

Big Lots shares jumped 13.1 percent to $ 42.44 after the closeout retailer posted better-than-expected results and higher sales.

In contrast, shares of apparel retailers Express and Guess slumped a day after the companies forecast disappointing profits for the current quarter amid a sluggish revival in consumer spending. Express shares sank 7.5 percent to $ 12.61. Guess fell 5.1 percent to $ 25.50.

Volume was modest, with about 5.92 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, slightly above the 5.75 billion average for the month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the New York Stock Exchange by 1,523 to 1,485. On the Nasdaq, decliners beat advancers by 1,594 to 1,018.

Business & Markets

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