U.S. stocks edged higher in late-afternoon trading Tuesday, with the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor's 500 index on track to close at record highs. Investors cheered new signals that the Federal Reserve is unlikely to begin rising interest rates before June and news that Greece's creditors approved another bailout of the cash-strapped country.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 102 points, or 0.6 percent, to 18,219 as of 3:15 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added six points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,115. The Nasdaq composite added five points, or 0.1 percent, at 4,966.
FED FOCUS: In remarks to Congress, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the central bank remains "patient" in deciding when to start raising interest rates. She noted that many Americans remain unemployed, wage growth remains sluggish and inflation is running below the Fed's target. That means a rate increase is unlikely for at least the next two meetings, she said. Yellen's testimony supports the view that a rate increase is not likely before June or even later this year. The Fed has kept its benchmark rate near zero since 2008.
THE QUOTE: "Markets had been very focused on the Yellen testimony and wanted to see if there was going to be any change in the outlook for the first Fed rate hike," said David Lefkowitz, senior equity strategist for UBS Wealth Management Research. "The short answer to that is, not really. The Fed is, at a minimum, not going to do anything imminently."
MUCH IMPROVED: Home Depot rose after the home-improvement retailer reported fourth-quarter financial results and a full-year outlook that exceeded Wall Street's expectations. The company also said it has authorized an $18 billion buyback of its shares and boosted its quarterly dividend by 26 percent. The stock was the best performer in the 30-company Dow, adding $4.91, or 4.4 percent, to $117.19.
SOARING SOLAR: Shares in First Solar jumped 14 percent a day after the solar power company said it plans to combine some of its assets with SunPower into an investment vehicle that is intended to provide steady dividends. First Solar led all the gainers in the S&P 500, adding $6.91 to $56.55.
CUTS AND HIKES: Shares in JPMorgan Chase rose 2.8 percent on news the bank plans to save $1.4 billion in annual expenses through cost-cutting measures while charging large clients deposit fees. The stock added $1.68 to $61.04.
GOOD AND NOT SO GOOD: Macy's reported better-than-expected earnings for the fourth quarter, but the retailer issued a forecast that fell short of Wall Street's expectations. The stock dipped $2.15, or 3.4 percent, to $62.01.
BAD QUARTER: Rosetta Resources slumped 14.1 percent after the oil and gas company reported worse-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings and said it is deferring production growth. Its shares slid $3.08 to $18.79.
SECTOR MONITOR: Nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index rose, led by utilities stocks. Health care stocks declined.
ECONOMIC BELLWETHERS: In addition to corporate news, investors also got a batch of new economic data Tuesday. A key gauge of U.S. home prices showed that prices rose 4.5 percent in December versus a year earlier. The small gain comes after price increases slowed for 12 straight months. Meanwhile, the Conference Board reported that its consumer confidence index dropped this month to 96.4 from a revised 103.8 in January. The February and January readings are the highest since before the recession started in December 2007.
EUROPEAN MARKETS: Britain's FTSE 100 edged up 0.5 percent to 6,949, a record high. France's CAC-40 rose 0.5 percent to 4,886 while Germany's DAX gained 0.7 percent to 11,205.
The Athens Stock Exchange General Index jumped 9.8 percent on news that Greece's European creditors approved a 4-month extension to the nation's financial bailout. The cash-strapped country has much more to do to convince its partners that it deserves longer-term help beyond the summer.
"It was not unexpected, but welcome news," said Brad Sorensen, director of market and sector analysis at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "We don't have to worry about that for at least a few weeks, anyway."
BONDS: U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note held fell to 1.98 percent from 2.06 percent late Monday.
METALS: Gold edged down $3.50 to $1,197.30 an ounce, silver lost seven cents to $16.19 an ounce and copper rose six cents to $2.65 a pound.
ENERGY: the price of oil fell for the fifth day in a row on expectations of rising inventories in the U.S. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 17 cents to close at $49.28 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 24 cents to close at $58.66 in London.
In other futures trading on the NYMEX:
— Wholesale gasoline fell 2.6 cents to close at $1.620 a gallon.
— Heating oil fell 18.9 cents to close at $2.029 a gallon.
— Natural gas rose 2.3 cents to close at $2.902 per 1,000 cubic feet