Stocks notched modest gains Wednesday after another choppy day of trading on Wall Street, leaving the market near its recent record highs.
The S&P 500 inched up 0.23% after flipping between small gains and losses in the early going. Gains in several Big Tech companies, including Intel, Apple and Amazon, helped nudge the S&P 500 higher, even though most of the stocks in the index fell. Those gains outweighed losses in industrial, materials and other sectors.
The S&P 500 rose 8.65 points to 3,809.84. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 8.22 points, or less than 0.1%, to 31,060.47. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite added 56.52 points, or 0.43%, to 13,128.95.
Treasury yields stalled after rising sharply since the beginning of the year. The benchmark 10-year yield dipped as concerns calmed that the Federal Reserve may curtail its purchases of Treasurys. Expectations of higher government spending and the possibility of inflation have helped drive bond yields higher.
"There's a tug of war in the market right now as to whether or not inflation will remain muted," said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. "The market does not want to see inflation climb at a pace that forces the Fed's hand."
Markets around the world have rushed higher recently on building optimism that a healthier economy is on the way because of the rollout of coronavirus vaccines and the prospect for more stimulus from a U.S. government soon to be run by Democrats.
Some of the biggest action has been in the bond market, where expectations for increased federal borrowing, economic growth and inflation have pushed longer-term Treasury yields to their highest levels since last spring.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury slowed its ascent, though, and dipped to 1.10% from 1.12% late Tuesday. Analysts said statements from two Federal Reserve officials a day earlier helped to calm concerns that it may curtail its purchases of Treasurys. Those purchases have helped keep rates low in hopes of boosting financial markets and the economy.
The Fed has had the freedom to keep short-term rates at nearly zero in part because inflation has remained weak. A report on Wednesday showed that prices at the consumer level were 1.4% higher in December from a year earlier. That was slightly more than economists expected, though it remains relatively low.
The Fed released its latest "Beige Book" Wednesday. The survey of U.S. business conditions found that the bulk of the Fed's 12 regions reported modest gains in economic activity in recent weeks. But two districts saw declines in activity and another two reported little or no change.
If interest rates keep climbing, it could bolster the argument for critics of the stock market, who say it has climbed too high and left prices too expensive.
Stocks that would benefit in particular from low rates helped drive the market higher Wednesday. Utility stocks tend to pay relatively big dividends, so their appeal often rises when bonds are paying less in interest and drawing fewer investors seeking income. Utilities rose 1.9% for the biggest gain among the 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500.
Tech stocks also climbed, as low interest rates help make investors more willing to pay high prices for their expected growth. Within the group, Intel jumped 7% after it said industry veteran Pat Gelsinger will take over as CEO next month. It also said it expects to report revenue and profit for the latest quarter above its prior forecast.
On the losing end were some of the market's biggest winners recently, which have climbed with expectations for a stronger economy and higher rates. Raw-material producers in the S&P 500 fell 1.1%, while industrial stocks fell 0.6% and financial stocks lost 0.9%.
Information for this article was contributed by Joe McDonald of The Associated Press.