NEW YORK (AP) — Encouraging earnings from Cisco and hopeful signs in a housing report lifted the stock market Thursday. Modest gains nudged major indexes close to four-year highs.
Cisco Systems led the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average, surging 9 percent. The world's largest maker of computer networking equipment reported earnings late Wednedsay that beat expectations, and it raised its quarterly dividend to 14 cents per share from 8 cents. Cisco gained $1.53 to $18.88.
Before the market opened Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that construction of single-family homes and apartments dipped 1.1 percent in July compared with June. But market analysts seized on another number: Building permits jumped to 812,000, the most since August 2008 and a hint of stronger construction in coming months.
The Dow added 75 points to 13,223 shortly after 1 p.m. EDT, an increase of 0.6 percent. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up eight points to 1,414.
"The market is just treading water," said Steve Wood, chief market strategist for Russell Investments.
Still, it was enough to push the Dow and S&P near their highest closes since 2007. The Dow closed at 13,279 on May 1, and the S&P closed at 1,149 on April 2.
Wood said he expects the stock market to remain relatively tame until Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gives a speech at Jackson Hole, Wyo., at the end of the month. Investors expect Bernanke's speech will clarify whether the Fed plans to take additional steps to help the economy.
Wal-Mart Stores was the Dow's biggest laggard. The world's largest retail chain sank 3 percent after it posted quarterly net income and sales that fell short of what analysts had predicted. Its stock lost $2.38 to $72.07.
In other trading, the Nasdaq composite index rose 19 points to 3,055. Facebook fell $1.02, or 5 percent, to $20.19 on the first day that its early investors and a handful of founders were free to sell their stock. In all, 271 million shares can be sold, according to Facebook's regulatory filings.
The S&P 500 has surged more than 5 percent in the last three weeks, with the bulk of the gains made on a few days in late July and early August. The first jolt was a pledge to protect the euro currency by the head of the European Central Bank, the second a report that showed stronger-than-expected U.S. hiring last month.
Markets often languish in August. Fewer shares are traded in late summer as trading desks remain short-staffed until people return from vacation after the Labor Day holiday. Without any major economic news, trading volume usually dries up and stock indexes appear sluggish, as if stuck in their beach chairs.
By the closing bell Wednesday, just 2.6 billion stocks had traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Three months ago, daily trading volume on the NYSE averaged 3.8 billion.
Among other stocks making big moves Thursday:
— Agilent Technologies slid 8 percent, the worst drop in the S&P 500. Agilent said a slump in global demand for its high-tech measuring products helped tug net income down 26 percent. Its stock lost $3.18 to $37.29.
— PetSmart Inc. climbed 4 percent after the pet products store posted better earnings than analysts' forecasts. PetSmart's quarterly net income rose 28 percent, and it raised its annual profit forecast for the second time this year. The company's stock added $3 to $70.52.