NEW YORK - For stocks on Monday, the path of least resistance was up.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index and the Dow Jones industrial average both edged to all-time highs on a day that was light on economic news and company releases.
Toll Brothers (TOLL), a builder of luxury homes, rose after saying its revenue surged 29 percent in the most recent reporting period. Dean Foods (DF) soared after the dairy company reported a much smaller loss than expected for its third quarter and projected a profit for the fourth quarter.
Stocks are trading at record levels, having rebounded following a sharp slump at the beginning of October. Improving company earnings and signs that the U.S. economy remains solid, despite growth lagging overseas, are encouraging stock investors.
"What is there to not like?" said Karyn Cavanaugh, a senior market strategist at Voya Investment Management. "As we head into the end of the year, earnings projections for 2015 are looking strong."
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 6.34 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 2,038.26. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 39.81 points, or 0.2 percent, ending at 17,613.74. The Nasdaq composite climbed 19.08 points, or 0.4 percent, to finish at 4,651.62.
About 90 percent of companies in the S&P 500 have reported their third-quarter results, and their earnings are projected to rise by about 8.9 percent for the period, according to S&P Capital IQ data. That compares with growth of 4.9 percent in the same period a year ago, and 10.4 percent in the second quarter.
Earnings are projected to keep growing at a broadly similar pace in coming quarters.
Health care stocks rose the most of the 10 sectors in the index. They climbed almost 1 percent, extending their gains for the year to 22 percent.
Home builders rose after Toll Brothers said that its revenue increased 29 percent in the most recent quarter and average sales prices rose. Toll Brother's stock climbed 73 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $32.95.
Cable companies were among the day's losers after President Barack Obama said regulators should reclassify the Internet as a public utility.
The president also said Internet providers shouldn't be allowed to cut deals with online services like Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN) or YouTube (GOOG) to prioritize their content. In a statement released by the White House Monday, the president called for an "explicit ban" on such deals.
Energy companies also resumed their slide as the price of oil dropped again.
The price of oil fell Monday on expectations of continued high OPEC output after the Kuwaiti oil minister predicted no production cut this month, and an important field in Libya appeared to be coming back online.
Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.25 to close at $77.40 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.05 to close at $82.34 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. That's the lowest close for Brent since October 2010.
Stocks, though no longer cheap, are still attractive because of lower returns elsewhere, said Bill Stone, the chief investment strategist for PNC Wealth Management. Bond yields have fallen this year, and rates on cash deposits remain close to zero.
"My baseline is that stocks will continue to chug along," Stone said.
On Monday, bond prices fell, pushing yields higher, though they remain lower than they were at the start of the year.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury edged up to 2.35 percent from 2.30 percent. The yield was at 3 percent at the start of the year.
Later in the week investors will be taking stock of retail company earnings to gain insight into how much American shoppers are spending ahead of the holiday season. Macy's (M), Nordstrom (JWN) and Walmart (WMT) will report their earnings. The government will also release its retail sales data for October on Friday.
The dollar edged higher against the Japanese yen, climbing 0.3 percent to 114.89 yen. Against the euro, the U.S. currency was little changed at $1.2424.
In metals trading, gold fell for the eighth time in nine days, sliding $10, or 0.9 percent, to $1,159.80 an ounce. Silver dropped 4.3 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $15.67 an ounce. Copper fell 1.9 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $3.02 a pound.
In other energy futures trading on the NYMEX:
- Wholesale gasoline fell 3.4 cents to close at $2.109 a gallon.
- Heating oil fell 3.1 cents to close at $2.469 a gallon.
- Natural gas fell 15.7 cents to close at $4.255 per 1,000 cubic feet.