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Hunt for safety drives Wall Street to record high

First Published Nov 14 2013 08:33AM      Last Updated Nov 14 2013 03:39 pm

New York » Not all record days on the stock market are created equal.

Major U.S. indexes rose to all-time highs for the second day in a row Thursday, but the gains were driven by stocks that investors tend to buy when they want to avoid risk, such as power companies, banks and drug makers.

The flight to less-volatile stocks and those that pay bigger-than-average dividends suggested that investors are becoming more cautious after a 26 percent surge in the market this year. More investors are saying the market has risen too far, too fast given the sluggish state of the U.S. economy.



"The legion of people in the last three months who think this market has topped out has grown significantly," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. However, Kinahan said the general tendency for the market is still to move higher.

Across the market, the most popular names were "defensive" stocks, ones that are seen as more likely to hold up in a downturn. Northeast Utilities, New England’s largest utility, rose 2 percent. Oil refining company Valero Energy rose 4 percent and life insurance company MetLife increased 3 percent.

The Dow Jones utility index, which is made up of 15 large utility companies, rose 1 percent, double the gain in the broader market. On the flip side, small-company stocks, which are viewed as more risky than larger, more established companies, were the only major category of stocks to fall. The Russell 2000 index edged lower.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 54.59 points, or 0.4 percent, to 15,876.22, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 8.62 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,790.62. Both were record highs.

The Nasdaq composite edged up 7.16 points, or 0.2 percent, to 3,972.74.

Network equipment maker Cisco Systems plunged after predicting a slump in sales, pulling other large technology companies down. Cisco sank $2.63, or 11 percent, to $21.36, Hewlett-Packard lost $1.42, or 5 percent, to $25.07 and Oracle fell 62 cents, or 2 percent, to $34.38.

Cisco, which relies heavily on government contracts, said its revenue for the current quarter could fall as much as 10 percent from the same period a year ago. The company’s chief executive, John Chambers, blamed budget gridlock in Washington, which resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government for 16 days and a near-breach of the nation’s borrowing limit.

"The shutdown, debt ceiling negotiations and delay of key decisions exasperated the lack of confidence among business leaders," Chambers said in a conference call with analysts.

Investors pay close attention to what Cisco says because it’s considered a proxy for business spending on technology. Cisco manufactures equipment that makes up the backbone of the Internet such as routers and servers.

At least one investor felt that Wall Street was overreacting to Cisco’s results.

"Everything seemed hunky-dory in tech and then Cisco comes out and says this ... it stands out to me as a little bit of anomaly," said Daniel Morgan, a portfolio manager at Synovus Trust Company, who focuses mostly on technology investments. "It’s a concern, but I don’t think this is a reason to rethink my whole strategy," he said. Cisco is still up 21 percent over the past year.

The market was also helped by news out of Washington, D.C.

Janet Yellen, who has been nominated to replace Ben Bernanke as the lead of the Federal Reserve, made no indication she would deviate from the economic stimulus policies that Bernanke has championed. The comments came during her testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee.

When asked her opinion about the recent rally in stock prices, Yellen said stocks "are not in bubble territory."

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