US investors buy defensive sectors’ stock

US stocks advanced yesterday, led by defensive sectors, in a sign the cash piles recently moving into the market are being put to use by cautious investors to pick up more gains.

S&P 500 is on track to post its best monthly performance since October 2011 and its best January since 1997 as investors poured $55bn in new cash into stock mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in January, the biggest monthly inflow on record. The Dow Jones industrial average has been flirting with 14,000, a level it hasn’t seen since October 2007.

Shares of Amazon jumped nearly seven per cent in extended trade after the world’s largest internet retailer posted fourth-quarter revenue that jumped 22 per cent to $21.27bn. The stock closed down 5.7 per cent at $260.35 in regular trading.

Among rising defensive shares, which are companies relatively immune to economic swings, were drugmaker Pfizer, up 3.2 per cent to $27.70 after posting earnings; and AT&T, 1.6 per cent higher at $34.68.

The top performing sectors on the S&P 500 were healthcare and telecom services, so-called defensive sectors, both up more than one per cent.

The energy sector also advanced, on the back of strong earnings from Valero Energy and a hedge fund move to break up Hess Corp to boost investor returns.

Valero shares jumped 12.8 per cent to $43.77 and Hess gained nine per cent to $68.11.

Yet Ford dropped 4.6 per cent to $13.14 as one of the biggest percentage losers on the S&P 500.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 72.49 points, or 0.52 per cent, at 13,954.42. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 7.66 points, or 0.51 per cent, at 1,507.84. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 0.64 points, or 0.02 per cent, at 3,153.66.