By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Dow and the S&P 500 ended at record highs on Wednesday as strong results from Macy's (NYS:M) lifted consumer discretionary shares and investors bought stocks in anticipation of remarks by Janet Yellen, who is likely to become the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve.
U.S. stock index futures rose to session highs after the bell following the release of Yellen's introductory remarks, ahead of her confirmation hearing on Thursday to succeed Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Yellen, who is the Fed's vice chair, will appear before the Senate Banking Committee.
In the prepared remarks, Yellen said the U.S. central bank has "more work to do" to help an economy and a labor market that are still underperforming, suggesting to some analysts that any scaling back of the Fed's stimulus program might not be right around the corner. Yellen has been a strong supporter of the Fed's bond-buying program.
"It's not a policy statement or anything, but I think her tone as far as potentially staying with easy money longer than might have been the case otherwise might be what the market's reacting to," said Alan Lancz, president of Alan B. Lancz & Associates Inc., an investment advisory firm in Toledo, Ohio. "It's just reconfirming everything."
Investors had been speculating that the Fed could start reducing its bond-buying program as early as December after last week's robust data on U.S. payrolls and economic growth.
Shares of Macy's shot up 9.4 percent to $50.68, a record closing high, after the U.S. department store operator said promotions had increased sales and business was improving ahead of the holiday season. The stock's rally on Macy's stronger-than-expected earnings spurred demand for consumer discretionary shares. During the session, Macy's stock hit a 52-week high at $50.95.
The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 70.96 points, or 0.45 percent, to end at 15,821.63, a record close. The Dow also hit an all-time intraday high of 15,822.98. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (^GSPC) gained 14.31 points, or 0.81 percent, to finish at 1,782.00, which was both a record closing high and an all-time intraday high.
The Nasdaq Composite Index (^IXIC) climbed 45.66 points, or 1.16 percent, to close at 3,965.58.
Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO) shares gained 1.12 percent to close at about $24 ahead of the release of the network equipment maker's earnings.
After the bell, Cisco's stock fell 10.6 percent after the company warned that its revenue would drop between 8 percent and 9 percent in its second fiscal quarter.
During the regular session, the S&P consumer discretionary sector index (.SPLRCD) jumped 1.6 percent, leading the benchmark S&P 500's advance.
Macy's was among the first of several retailers expected to report earnings in the coming days.
"Macy's reported blowout numbers. It's had a positive impact on everything else consumer related today. I think people's expectations were pretty low for holiday shopping, and I think that woke a lot of people up," said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.
Macy's forward price-to-earnings ratio, at 11.4, is below that of the S&P 500, which is at 15. But consumer discretionary shares, which have led S&P 500 sector gains this year, are considered among the priciest in the index. The sector has a P/E ratio of 17.8, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine data.
The S&P 500 also found support from technology stocks, with shares of NetApp (NTAP) rising 2.7 percent to $41.29 ahead of the company's results after the close.
After the bell, NetApp's stock slipped 0.2 percent to $41.20 following the release of its results.
During the regular session, Macy's was the S&P 500's biggest percentage gainer.
Among other retail stocks, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) shares edged up 0.2 percent to $78.90 a day ahead of its quarterly earnings.
Home Depot Inc (HD), which is set to report results next week, gained 1.9 percent to $77.60 and bolstered the Dow industrials.
In addition to Yellen's testimony on Thursday, investors are awaiting a speech from Bernanke. The Fed chairman is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (midnight GMT), though the topic is not specific to monetary policy. A question-and-answer session will follow.
About 6.034 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, slightly below the five-day average closing volume of about 6.34 billion, according to BATS exchange data.
Advancers outnumbered decliners on both the NYSE and the Nasdaq by a ratio of slightly more than 2 to 1.
(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch Additional reporting by Luke Swiderski Editing by Jan Paschal)