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US stocks close mixed after notching new all-time intraday highs; earnings in focus

U.S. equities closed mixed on Thursday after hitting new record highs, as investors digested several key earnings reports.

Among the firms reporting Thursday were Ford and Dow component Caterpillar. Ford matched earnings estimates, while topping sales expectations. Caterpillar beat earnings estimates but fell short of revenue expectations. Alphabet, Intel, Microsoft, and Starbucks are among companies that reported after the bell.

"Companies are still able to beat on the bottom line, but are having a tougher time doing that on the top [line]," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank. "That could be a trend in cost cutting."

Thirty percent of S&P 500 companies had reported quarterly earnings as of Thursday morning, with 70 percent exceeding analyst expectations on the bottom line and 56 percent beating sales estimates, according to data from The Earnings Scout.

"We have reached the heart of the Q4 earnings season. The deluge of releases from the next two weeks will confirm whether the final three months of 2016 marked a disappointment for companies on a relative basis," said Jeremy Klein, chief market strategist at FBN Securities.

"To be sure, the bar for this period was a bit higher than in previous quarters. The hurdle only gets more difficult for corporate executives to clear over the next year as extremely sanguine bottom line forecasts have hardly budged," Klein said.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose about 30 points, with Goldman Sachs contributing the most gains, hitting a new record high. The S&P 500 broke above 2,300 for the first time, before falling 0.1 percent, with health care falling 0.7 percent to lead decliners..

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Mario Tama | Getty Images

"The [S&P 500] confirmed a breakout from its consolidation phase yesterday, supporting short-term upside follow-through and minimizing the likelihood of a significant pullback in the near term," said Katie Stockton, chief technical analyst at BTIG.

"We believe the breakout overrules the bearish takeaways we can derive from the low level of the VIX and weak seasonal influences in February, for now at least," Stockton said. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, hit its lowest levels in more than two years on Wednesday. It held around 10.6 on Thursday.

The Nasdaq composite closed 0.02 percent lower, having hit a new all-time high earlier in the session.

The three major U.S. indexes closed at all-time highs on Wednesday, with the Dow breaking above 20,000 for the first time, an important psychological barrier.

"If you look at it from a technical perspective, [stocks] finally broke from that six-week range," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab. "The market is giving the Trump administration more than the benefit of the doubt."

Dow since US electionSource: FactSet

One of the principal catalysts in sending stocks to record levels were a series of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump, including two that facilitate the construction of the Keystone XL and North Dakota Access pipelines.

"Until we get to the Fed meeting in March, I don't see anything that could push us lower," Schwab's Frederick said. The Federal Reserve is scheduled to hold its first meeting of the year Jan. 30 through Feb. 1, though Frederick does not expect the central bank to move monetary policy then.

In economic news, initial jobless claims jumped 22,000 to 259,000, but have remained below 300,000 for 99 weeks straight, their longest stretch since 1970.

The U.S. IHS Markit services PMI showed the sector expanded at its fastest pace since 2015, hitting 55.1 from 53.9. "Anecdotal evidence suggested that stronger domestic demand and improving business confidence had led to a robust rise in service sector activity at the start of 2017," IHS Markit said. New home sales fell 10.4 percent in December.

U.S. Treasury yields fell slightly, with the benchmark 10-year note yield hovering around 2.50 percent, while the short-term two-year note yield traded at 1.22 percent. The dollar regained some ground against a basket of currencies, having broken below 100 earlier this week. It traded 0.5 percent higher in afternoon ET, with the euro around $1.069 percent and the yen near 114.4.

Overseas, European and Asian equities rose broadly, following Wednesday's bullish run on Wall Street. The pan-European Stoxx 600 index advanced 0.25 percent, while the Japanese Nikkei 225 gained 1.81 percent.

The iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF (EWW) fell more than 2 percent after Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said he would not attend a previously scheduled meeting with Trump. The Mexican peso hit a session low following the announcement.

Symbol
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Price
 
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DJIA
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S&P 500
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NASDAQ
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The Dow Jones industrial average rose 32.40 points, or 0.16 percent, to close at 20,100.91, with DuPont leading advancers and Verizon the top decliner.

The S&P 500 fell 1.69 points, or 0.07 percent, to end at 2,296.68, with health care leading five sectors lower and financials outperforming.

The Nasdaq composite fell 1.16 points, or 0.02 percent, to close at 5,655.18.

Decliners were a step ahead of advancers at the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 829.17 million and a composite volume of 3.602 billion at the close.

Gold futures for February delivery settled $8 lower at $1,191 per ounce. U.S. oil futures for March delivery advanced 1.95 percent to settle at $53.78 per barrel.

On tap this week:

Thursday

Earnings: Intel, Microsoft, Alphabet, Dow Chemical, Ford, Praxair, Potash, Alaska Air, PulteGroup, LM Ericsson, LVMH, Raytheon, Southwest Air, Stanley Black & Decker

Friday

Earnings: Chevron, Colgate-Palmolive, Honeywell, American Airlines, General Dynamics, Air Products

8:30 a.m. Durable goods

8:30 a.m. Q4 Real GDP

10:00 a.m. Consumer sentiment