U.S. stocks stepped modestly higher on Monday, with health-care companies leading the charge that again lifted benchmarks to records, as investors tracked corporate results as the earnings season starts to wind down.
"There does seem to be a degree of momentum bouncing off the last three weeks. Health care in general is surging today, probably due to the pending review of the Affordable Care Act by the Supreme Court," said Jim Russell, portfolio manager at Bahl & Gaynor, referring to the high court's surprising announcement on Friday that it would hear a challenge to the subsidies that help people pay their insurance premiums.
"It's possible that the current rules in place around pricing and product pricing may be modified to some extent," Russell said.
Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cablevision Systems declined after President Barack Obama urged an "explicit ban on paid prioritization" to protect the open internet, saying in a statement that there should not be any slowing of internet content. Time Warner and Comcast both sell broadband service.
"In terms of the market push itself, earnings for the third quarter look very good, and the strong dollar hasn't been too much of a headwind to date," said Russell.
McDonald's gained after the fast-food chain and Dow component reported same-store sales slid in October. Toll Brothers climbed after the luxury homebuilder reported a 29 percent increase in quarterly revenue. Alibaba Group rose ahead of Tuesday's "Singles' Day" in China, which has become the biggest day of online sales globally. Dendreon plunged after the maker of a prostate-cancer treatment filed for bankruptcy. Abercrombie & Fitch fell after Oppenheimer downgraded the retailer's shares to market perform from outperform.
"You've got more than three-quarters of all companies exceeding earnings estimates, which is the best in seven quarters," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.