By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks ticked up on Wednesday, just enough for the S&P 500 and Dow industrials to set record highs, with investors expecting upbeat earnings to keep the rally going.
Following three days of strong gains on the back of economic data, focus has turned to Thursday's meeting at the Bank of England, expected to turn to quantitative easing as it tries to shield the economy from the fallout of Britain's vote last month to leave the European Union.
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Continued support from monetary policies across the developed world and strong economic data in the United States have given investors a reason to bid growth-sensitive sectors of the stock market. This turn to cyclical stocks could help take the rally beyond the current record highs.
"The bias is to extend the current rally mainly because (U.S. economic) data that we've gotten so far has been supportive," said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.
He said the BOE and bank earnings will take the focus this week and the sectors more likely to post revenue surprises during the current earnings season are consumer discretionary, healthcare, industrials and materials.
"New records came just before we started earnings and strong earnings are going to be essential. Fundamentals are going to be the basis for the market to move forward."
While second-quarter earnings of S&P 500 companies are currently expected to fall 5 percent, the typical beat would indicate the first quarter marked a bottom for the earnings contraction. Most on Wall Street expect growth to resume in the second half of the year.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 24.45 points, or 0.13 percent, to 18,372.12; the S&P 500 ticked up 0.29 points, or 0.01 percent, to 2,152.43 and the Nasdaq Composite fell 17.09 points, or 0.34 percent, to 5,005.73.
The S&P and Dow closed at record highs.
It was the more defensive sectors that buoyed the S&P 500 after having lagged over the past few days. Telecoms, utilities and consumer staples were the top percentage gainers.
The S&P 500 energy sector dropped 0.7 percent after leading the market on Tuesday, as a steep rally in crude futures prices reversed almost fully.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.15-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.41-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 54 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 124 new highs and 14 new lows.
About 6.5 billion shares changed hands in U.S. exchanges, below the 7.86 billion daily average over the past 20 sessions.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Nick Zieminski)