Dow on track for ninth straight record close

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks were slightly higher in afternoon trading on Monday, with the Dow on track to close at a record high for the ninth straight session.

While the energy sector was the biggest drag on the S&P 500 due to falling oil prices, this was partly offset by support from consumer stocks such as Wal-Mart Stores (WMT.N).

Investors looked into underperforming sectors, including retail, anticipating a lift from in-store back-to-school shopping, according to Rick Meckler, president of LibertyView Capital Management in Jersey City, New Jersey.

“What you’re really seeing is very minor sector rotation,” said Meckler. There’s a lot of shopping at this time of year that involves stores and the fickle nature of teenagers. It tends to be more direct shopping than buying over the internet.”

Robust second-quarter earnings have boosted the broader market in recent weeks and a strong July employment report on Friday added to positive sentiment.

“We have strong earnings. That is helping the market,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group.

“I have seen a lot of companies exceeding their revenue growth and we also have better-than-expected global growth, which are the main drivers for equities.”

Analysts, on average, expect S&P 500 earnings to have expanded 12 percent in the second quarter and project earnings up 9.3 percent for the September quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

However, the recent run-up has also sparked concerns about stretched valuations.

The S&P, which is up about 11 percent this year, is trading at 18 times expected earnings, compared to its 10-year average of 14, according to Thomson Reuters Datastream.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 17.52 points, or 0.08 percent, to 22,110.33, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 2.98 points, or 0.12 percent, to 2,479.81 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 29.60 points, or 0.47 percent, to 6,381.17.

The consumer staples .SPLRCS and technology .SPLRCT sectors were the S&P’s leading gainers on Monday, followed by the consumer discretionary sector .SPLRCD.

In coming days, investors will scrutinize quarterly results from retailers in light of competition from online giant Amazon.com (AMZN.O).

Wal-Mart (WMT.N) shares were up 1 percent, while Dollar Tree (DLTR.O) and Best Buy (BBY.N) saw gains of more than 2 percent.

Tech has been the best performing S&P sector this year as investors look for growth in an otherwise low-growth environment.

The energy index…

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