By Wallace Witkowski, MarketWatch , Ryan Vlastelica

Wal-Mart tumbles, Best Buy higher after results

U.S. stocks closed slightly higher on Thursday as an improving economic picture and greater clarity on Federal Reserve policy allowed the market's postelection uptrend to continue, putting the S&P 500 and Dow within reach of attaining new record closing highs.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average which spent the session fluctuating between slight gains and losses, closed up 35.68 points, or 0.2%, at 18,903.82, about 20 points shy of all-time closing high set Tuesday.

Shares of Home Depot Inc.(HD), Nike Inc.(NKE) and Microsoft Corp.(MSFT) led the Dowhigher, but the blue-chip average was pressured as shares of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) closed down 3.1% following weaker-than-expected sales (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/wal-mart-shares-fall-after-revenue-miss-2016-11-17). Also, shares of Cisco Systems Inc.(CSCO) finished down 4.8% after the network equipment company issued a weak profit outlook (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/cisco-shares-slump-on-weak-second-quarter-earnings-outlook-2016-11-16) late Wednesday.

The average broke a seven-session winning streak in its Wednesday session, as a postelection rally for financial stocks hit pause.

The S&P 500 finished up 10.18 points, or 0.5%, at 2,187.12, just 3 points shy of its record closing high set back in mid-August. Financial stocks rose 1.3%, leading gainers following Wednesday's selloff, while consumer-discretionary stocks advanced 1.2%. Real-estate stocks led decliners, off 1%, while the energy sector slumped 0.7%.

The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 39.39 points, or 0.7%, to close at 5,333.97, less than 6 points from its record close set in late September.

In testimony before the House-Senate Joint Economic Committee, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said an interest-rate hike could come "relatively soon (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/yellen-says-fed-may-hike-interest-rates-relatively-soon-2016-11-17)," further underlining expectations a rate move could come at the central bank's December meeting. While that has long been seen as a likely time for a rate increase announcement, some investors have speculated on the possibility of a delay following the unexpected election of , which injected a measure of uncertainty into economic outlooks.

Watch: Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen's testimony to Congress (http://blogs.marketwatch.com/capitolreport/2016/11/17/live-blog-and-video-of-fed-chairwoman-janet-yellens-testimony-to-congress/)

"Recent economic data has suggested the economy is improving and that the Fed is likely to raise rates next month. We think that's the right move given how strong labor markets have been, however, equities don't look cheap based on a number of valuation metrics," said David Carter, chief investment officer at Lenox Wealth Advisors.

In the latest economic data, jobless claims fell far more than expected in the latest week (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jobless-claims-fall-to-43-year-low-of-235000-2016-11-17), sinking to a 43-year low. Consumer inflation rose at the fastest rate (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/higher-gas-prices-boost-inflation-in-october-cpi-shows-2016-11-17)in six months in October, which could make an interest-rate increase more likely, even though the spike stemmed largely from more expensive gasoline. The Philadelphia Fed (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/philly-fed-index-eases-but-remains-positive-for-fourth-month-2016-11-17)said itsmanufacturing index eased in November to a reading of 7.6 from 9.7 in October.

The ICE dollar index , which measures the currency against a basket of six rivals, rose 0.5%, extending a rally that took it to a 13-month high on Wednesday.

Need to know:Carl Icahn says dial back on stocks, as Trump rally looks overdone (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/carl-icahn-says-dial-back-on-stocks-as-trump-rally-looks-overdone-2016-11-17)

(http://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-transition-teams-incoherence-could-torpedo-market-rally-2016-11-16)Read:Bond guru Bill Gross says Trump voters will suffer most from election (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/bond-guru-bill-gross-says-trump-voters-will-suffer-most-from-election-result-2016-11-16)

Stocks to watch:Best Buy Co. Inc (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/best-buys-stock-soars-after-results-and-profit-outlook-beat-expectations-2016-11-17).(BBY) surged nearly 14% after results and profits beat forecasts.Staples Inc (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/staples-quarterly-earnings-meet-expectations-but-sales-miss-wall-streets-target-2016-11-17). closed up 3.9% even after sales missed analysts expectations.

First Solar Inc.(FSLR) shares fell 5.1% after the solar-panel maker said it plans to lay off a quarter of its staff (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/first-solar-to-slash-a-quarter-of-workforce-expects-500-million-in-charges-2016-11-16) and cut its 2020 solar target in China.

NetApp Inc.(NTAP) shares rallied 6.3% after the data-storage company's quarterly results topped Wall Street estimates (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/netapp-beats-expectations-amid-turnaround-effort-2016-11-16) late Wednesday.

Tesoro Corp.(TSO) said it would buy Western Refining Inc.(WNR) in a deal worth around $4.1 billion on Thursday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/tesoro-to-buy-western-refining-for-41-billion-2016-11-17). Tesoro shares rose 1% while Western Refining popped 23%.

Other markets: Equities were subdued in Asia (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/asian-markets-slip-as-oil-prices-fall-2016-11-16), while those in Europe (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/european-stocks-struggle-for-direction-with-ecb-minutes-on-deck-2016-11-17) ticked higher. Gold prices settled down 0.6% at $1,216.90 an ounce.

Crude prices (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/oil-prices-pull-back-after-another-jump-in-us-supply-2016-11-17) settled down 0.3% at $45.42 a barrel, falling from its highs of the session. Oil had previously jumped more than 1% higher after Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih reportedly made upbeat comments (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/saudi-deal-optimism-sparks-rebound-for-oil-prices-2016-11-17) in a television interview about a production-cut deal at the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on Nov. 30.

Opinion: Trump transition team turmoil could torpedo market rally (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-transition-teams-incoherence-could-torpedo-market-rally-2016-11-16)

--Barbara Kollmeyer in Madrid contributed to this report.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 17, 2016 16:28 ET (21:28 GMT)

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