NEW YORK (AP) — Stock indexes edged higher in afternoon trading Tuesday, led by gains in technology companies and banks.
A rise in Treasury yields lifted financial companies, as higher interest rates could help them generate better profit margins. Growth-oriented sectors like industrial and technology companies gained on signs that Europe is poised to emerge from recession. That helped offset declines in homebuilders and other stocks that are sensitive to rising borrowing costs.
The yield on the 10-year note climbed close to its highest in two years after industrial production in the eurozone rose in June from the month before and investor confidence rose in Germany, the region's biggest economy. European sales account for about 10 percent of revenue for companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices.
The yield, which rises when bond prices fall, is also climbing on speculation that the Federal Reserve will cut its stimulus as the economy recovers. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said Tuesday that it was too early to say when the bank would ease back on its stimulus, but hinted that it would likely happen before the end of the year.
"My surprise would be that the stock market's reaction to the rise in bond yields wasn't as strong as it has been in the past," said John Canally, Investment Strategist for LPL Financial. "Today that didn't seem to matter — what mattered most is that the economy is chugging along and our export partners are doing better."
Homebuilders slid on concern that mortgage rates will climb, curbing a recovery in the housing market. The stocks of phone companies and utilities that typically pay big dividends also fell. Those stocks have been slumping as Treasury yields have risen, diminishing their appeal as sources of investment income.
Airline stocks slumped after the federal government challenged the proposed merger of US Airways and American Airlines, a deal between two of the largest carriers. The government says the deal would result in "substantial harm to consumers" in higher fares and fees.
Major indexes started slightly higher, drifted lower at mid-morning, and were back up again in the afternoon. Trading has been unusually light this week and last as many investors take vacation.
"The market is drifting and consolidating here, and we think this is likely (to continue) over the next week or so," said Jim Russell, a Regional Investment Director at US Bank.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 0.5 percent this month, after a 5 percent jump in July after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke reassured investors that the central bank would withdraw its stimulus in a measured manner.
The S&P 500 index was up four points, or 0.3 percent, at 1,693 in the last hour of trading. The Nasdaq composite was up 13 points, or 0.4 percent, at 3,683.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 41 points, or 0.3 percent, at 15,461.
Other indexes fell. The Dow Jones Transportation average dropped 36.10, or 0.5 percent, to 6,458, dragged down by the slump in airline stocks. Indexes measuring utilities and small-company stocks also fell.
The S&P has lost 1.2 percent since hitting an all-time high of 1,709 on Aug. 2. Disappointing second-quarter corporate earnings reports have prompted investors to send stock prices lower this month.
The index is still up almost 19 percent for the year on optimism that the housing market will recover and hiring will pick up.
In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped to 2.72 percent from 2.62 percent Monday. The yield is used as a benchmark to set interest rates on many kinds of loans including home mortgages.
In commodities trading, the price of oil rose 72 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $106.83 a barrel. Gold dropped $13.70, or 1 percent, to $1,320.50 an ounce.
European markets rose broadly following news that industrial production rose in the region in June. A German survey of investor confidence also came in better than analysts had expected.
The dollar rose against the euro and the Japanese yen.
Among stocks making big moves:
— J.C. Penney fell 47 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $12.69. The struggling department store chain faces an uncertain future after activist investor William Ackman resigned from the company's board.
— Yum Brands, which owns the Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC fast-food chains, slumped $1.5, or 1.9 percent, to $73.02 after reporting that its sales in China fell 13 percent in July.
— Eli Lilly and Co. rose 1.53, or 3 percent, to $55.20 after the company said its potential lung cancer treatment necitumumab met a key research goal by helping to increase survival time for patients in a late-stage study.
— PulteGroup fell 46 cents, or 3 percent, to $15.26, leading a broad decline in homebuilder stocks.
— US Airways fell $2.23, or 11.8 percent, to $16.58. Other airlines also fell. Delta Air Lines dropped $1.60, or 7.7 percent, to $19.44 and United Continental fell $2.05, or 6.2 percent, to $56.87.