NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are edging higher in midday trading on corporate earnings news and rising oil prices. Utilities made the biggest gains. Mining companies rose with the price of gold.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average gained 46 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,686 as of 12:28 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 5 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,953. The Nasdaq composite rose 20 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,610.
On the last trading day of February, the Dow and S&P 500 are on track for their first monthly gains since November.
DIGGING FOR GOLD: The February gain has been led by the materials sector of the S&P 500, which includes mining companies that have been helped by a surge in the price of precious metals. The price of gold has climbed 10.5 percent this month and silver is up 4 percent. On Monday, mining and oil and gas company Freeport-McMoRan added 29 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $7.72, while Newmont Mining advanced 58 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $25.94.
Chemical companies also contributed to the rally in the materials sector. Dow Chemical picked up 77 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $49.51 and LyondellBasell Industries rose 97 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $81.14.
SHINY SAFETY NET: Gold is seen as a safe investment when the market gets rough, and Steven Dunn, the head of ETF Securities' U.S. division, said investors are now more worried about the global markets than they have been in several years.
"When there is turmoil in the world, people do come back to gold as sort of that safe port," he said.
The price of gold rose 1 percent to $1,233.20 an ounce. Over the last two weeks gold has traded near it highest price in a year. Silver prices also edged higher, rising 0.9 percent to $14.85 an ounce.
OVERSEAS NEWS: Policymakers at a weekend meeting of the Group of 20 rich and developing countries promised to use "all tools" at their disposal to bolster weak global growth, but they didn't announce any specific moves. Some relief emerged with the news that China's monetary authorities had cut the amount of deposits that banks have to keep in reserve at the central bank. That should free up cash for banks to lend. The government also guided the yuan lower.
SIGNET SPARKLES: Signet Jewelers climbed after it signaled better results for its most recent quarter. The jewelry retailer forecast a larger profit and better sales than analysts expected. The stock jumped $11.38, or 11.5 percent, to $110.51.
DRUGMAKERS TUMBLE: Endo International lost $9.09, or 17.2 percent, to $43.86 after saying it will wind down its Astora women's health business. Valeant Pharmaceuticals slid after the company withdrew its financial forecasts and said it's not ready to release preliminary fourth-quarter results. The stock gave up $5.65, or 7 percent, to $75.
Elsewhere, Mallinckrodt stock fell $2.57, or 3.7 percent, to $66.67.
TASER SURGES: Taser International jumped $2.11, or 12.1 percent, to $19.59 after the stun gun maker's profit and revenue topped estimates.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 89 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $33.67 a barrel in New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the global benchmark, added $1.03, or 2.9 percent, to $36.47 a barrel in London.
Natural gas prices skidded 4.5 percent as investors worried that demand will fall in March. In a research note, Commodity Weather Group said it expects a "super warm pattern" to start in about a week. That will lead to less demand for heat as the winter comes to a close. Natural gas fell to $1.71 per 1,000 cubic feet.
EUROPE AND ASIA: Germany's DAX slipped 0.2 percent, while the FTSE 100 index of British shares was unchanged. The CAC-40 in France rose 0.9 percent. The yen's strength weighed on Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225, which fell 1 percent. The Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 2.9 percent after the yuan's decline. Elsewhere, South Korea's Kospi dipped 0.2 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng slid 1.3 percent.
NRG POWERS DOWN: NRG Energy slumped on a disappointing earnings report. Its stock fell 38 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $10.70.
LUMBER STUMBLE: Lumber Liquidators Holdings continued to slide after it reported a bigger-than-expected loss and less revenue than analysts expected. The stock lost 58 cents, or 5.2 percent, to $10.53.
EUROPE DEFLATION: Stock markets in Europe were helped somewhat by news that inflation across the 19-country eurozone turned negative in February as consumer prices fell. The euro fell because traders expect further monetary stimulus from the European Central Bank at its meeting on March 10.
CURRENCIES: Bond prices rose and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.74 from 1.76 percent. The euro fell to $1.0865 from $1.0928 and the dollar fell to 112.97 yen from 113.90 yen.
Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/marley-jay