US STOCKS-Wall St drifts higher, tries for 7th week of gains

Rodrigo Campos
Friday, 22 Nov 2013 | 10:37 AM ET

* Biogen, Gilead lead health sector gains

* Dow heads for seventh straight week of gains

* Dow up 0.06 pct, S&P up 0.14 pct, Nasdaq up 0.3 pct

NEW YORK, Nov 22 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Friday amid a dearth of data and ahead of a holiday-shortened week in the United States, a day after the Dow industrials broke 16,000 for the first time.

The Dow's record high came Thursday as data on inflation and the labor market soothed fears the Federal Reserve could be ready to start winding down a stimulus program that has lifted the benchmark S&P 500 by almost 26 percent this year.

Even after the U.S. central bank starts winding down its stimulus, monetary policy is likely to be very accommodative for some time, likely for years, Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart said on CNBC on Friday.

"The Fed will not start to taper until the economy is able to walk on its own; that's a positive," said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors, in New York.

"From a catalyst perspective things are calm; we're sitting just off record highs and in the near term we're probably fairly valued."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 10.17 points or 0.06 percent, to 16,020.16, the S&P 500 gained 2.47 points or 0.14 percent, to 1,798.32 and the Nasdaq Composite added 11.904 points or 0.3 percent, to 3,981.058.

The Dow was on track to close a seventh straight week of gains, its longest streak since an 8-week rally between December 2010 and January 2011. If the S&P closes this week in the black, it will match the 7-week string it posted to start the year.

U.S. equity markets will be closed Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday and will open for half a day next Friday.

Healthcare sector stocks led gains with Biogen Idec up 10.6 percent to $279.10 after the company won regulatory protection for its multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera in Europe. European regulators also recommended approval of a new drug for hepatitis C treatment from Gilead Sciences and its shares jumped 4.7 percent to $75.02.

Ariad Pharmaceuticals said European regulators recommended the approval of a leukemia drug whose U.S. sale was suspended due to safety concerns, sending the company's shares up 21.9 percent to $3.40.

Shares of Splunk Inc jumped 23.5 percent to $73.99 a day after the data analytics software maker reported better-than-expected quarterly results and raised its full-year revenue forecast.

Charter Communications is nearing an agreement with banks to raise funds for a bid for Time Warner Cable, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the situation. TWC shares rose 7.9 percent to $130.38.

Shares of Ross Stores fell 8.9 percent to $73.15 a day after the retailer's earnings report included a disappointing outlook for the fourth quarter.

Foot Locker shares rose 3.5 percent to $38.04 after the retailer posted third-quarter earnings.