By Caroline Valetkevitch
(Reuters) - Gains in utilities offset a retreat in energy shares on Monday, leaving U.S. stocks slightly higher as investors remained nervous about third-quarter corporate results.
The Dow rose for a seventh straight session, led by gains in UnitedHealth Group (UNH.N), which rose 2.7 percent at $122.51.
This week brings results from some top U.S. banks, among other companies, and investors are eyeing a projected 4.8 percent year-over-year decline in third-quarter S&P 500 earnings, according to Thomson Reuters data. That would be the worst earnings season in six years.
A 1.1-percent drop in the energy index (.SPNY) was the biggest drag on the S&P 500 as oil prices retreated 5 percent. The utility index (.SPLRCU) jumped 0.9 percent.
Traders are "taking profits on some very nice moves, particularly on the oil patch," said Jim Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis.
Gains in utility stocks showed "people are getting a little defensive."
Other analysts said it may be a somewhat bullish sign that the market did not sell off after last week's sharp gains.
"Given how strong last week was, and we're going to get into the heart of the Q3 earnings season, the market has been relatively resilient," said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.
"As long as the tone of the guidance isn't totally negative, I think we have a decent chance of having an OK fourth quarter."
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) rose 47.37 points, or 0.28 percent, to 17,131.86, the S&P 500 (.SPX) gained 2.57 points, or 0.13 percent, to 2,017.46 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) added 8.17 points, or 0.17 percent, to 4,838.64.
Trading volume was light with the bond market, banks and the government closed for Columbus Day.
Focus will be on results from banks this week. JPMorgan (JPM.N) reports on Tuesday, with Goldman Sachs (GS.N), Bank of America (BAC.N), Wells Fargo (WFC.N) and Citigroup (C.N) posting results through the week.
Third-quarter earnings for the S&P financial sector (.SPSY) are expected to have grown 7.6 percent versus a year ago, Thomson Reuters data showed.
Along with the banks, several Dow 30 components are scheduled to report results this week, including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), Intel (INTC.O) and General Electric (GE.N).
Eli Lilly's (LLY.N) shares fell 7.8 percent to $79.44, its biggest single-day percentage decline in seven years, after the drugmaker said it was scrapping an experimental heart drug.
EMC's shares (EMC.N) were up 1.8 percent at $28.35 after Dell said it would buy the data storage company in a $67 billion deal.
NYSE advancers outnumbered decliners 1,584 to 1,441, a 1.10-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,435 issues fell and 1,328 advanced, for a 1.08-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 25 new 52-week highs and 1 low; the Nasdaq recorded 78 new highs and 30 lows.
About 5.1 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.6 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
(Additional reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski)