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Banks lead stocks slightly higher

An American flag hangs on the front of

An American flag hangs on the front of the New York Stock Exchange hours after the market closed in Manhattan on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Credit: AP / Peter Morgan

Financial companies led U.S. stock indexes higher Thursday, nudging the Nasdaq composite index to a record high.

The latest gains came as the stock market continued to trade mostly in a narrow range in the absence of major new economic data and ahead of next week’s meeting of Federal Reserve policymakers.

Speculation that the Fed will raise interest rates helped boost financial stocks for the second day in a row. Higher interest rates allow banks and credit card issuers to charge more for loans, which boosts profits.

Utilities and consumer goods companies were among the biggest decliners. Energy stocks also fell as crude oil prices declined.

“(Today) is a continuation of fairly muted market action,” Bill Northey, chief investment officer at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “We’ve been in a very low volatility period of time. We’re also a bit between material economic events.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 0.65 points, or 0.03 percent, to 2,433.79. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 8.84 points, or 0.04 percent, to 21,182.53. Both indexes remain slightly below their record highs set last Friday.

The Nasdaq added 24.38 points, or 0.4 percent, to 6,321.76. Small-company stocks fared better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index climbed 18.94 points, or 1.4 percent, to 1,415.61.

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