Gains in technology, materials companies help lift US stocks

U.S. stocks moved broadly higher in afternoon trading Friday, steering the benchmark S&P 500 index toward an all-time high. Technology companies accounted for much of the market’s climb. Materials and energy stocks also posted solid gains. The rally followed remarks earlier in the day by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who said he expects the Fed to gradually raise interest rates if the U.S. economic expansion remains strong.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 rose 18 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,875 as of 1:05 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 163 points, or 0.6 percent, to 25,820. The Nasdaq composite climbed 66 points, or 0.8 percent, to 7,944. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 8 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,725. The indexes are all on track to finish the week with a gain.

THE QUOTE: “The equity markets wanted to hear that slow-and-steady is the path, and I didn’t hear anything to the contrary,” said Rob Eschweiler, global investment specialist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

FED TALK: Speaking at an annual conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Powell said the central bank recognizes that the path of inflation is so uncertain that it generally needs to strike a balance between being supportive of growth and being restrictive. Powell said this gradual approach is the wisest policy for the Fed in trying to navigate between the risks of raising rates too fast and thus “needlessly shortening the expansion” and moving too slowly and risking an overheated economy.

TECH ON A TEAR: Investors continued to bid up technology sector stocks. Video game publisher Activision Blizzard rose 4 percent to $73.73.

SOLID QUARTER: Software maker Autodesk surged 15.4 percent to $157.26 after issuing a better-than-expected quarterly report and strong forecasts.

MATERIALS RALLY: Shares in materials sector companies posted solid gains. Albemarle picked up 3.2 percent to $96.80.

TROUBLING TREND: Gap slumped 9.4 percent to $29.38 after the clothing chain said sales at Gap stores fell in the second quarter compared to a year earlier.

DISAPPOINTING OUTLOOK: Hibbett Sports sank 28.8 percent to $20.93 after the retailer cut its fiscal year profit and sales forecasts following a weak second quarter.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude gained 1.8 percent to $69.08 per barrel in New York. It’s up 5.9 percent this week. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 1.8 percent to $76.11 per barrel.

The latest increase in oil prices helped boost energy stocks. Concho Resources gained 2.7 percent to $138.04.

BOND YIELDS: Bond prices were little changed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury held steady at 2.82 percent.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 111.19 yen from 111.28 yen late Thursday. The euro strengthened to $1.1630 from $1.1536.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: In Europe, Germany’s DAX rose 0.2 percent, while the CAC 40 in France added 0.2 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares gained 0.2 percent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index closed 0.9 percent higher. The Kospi in South Korea rose 0.5 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.4 percent.