Gains in utilities offset a retreat in energy shares on Monday, leaving US 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, which rose 2.7 per cent at $122.51.
This week brings results from some top US banks, among other companies, and investors are eyeing a projected 4.8 per cent 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-per cent drop in the energy index was the biggest drag on the S&P 500 as oil prices retreated 5 per cent. The utility index jumped 0.9 per cent.
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 rose 47.37 points or 0.28 per cent to 17,131.86, the S&P 500 gained 2.57 points or 0.13 per cent to 2,017.46 and the Nasdaq Composite added 8.17 points or 0.17 per cent 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 reports on Tuesday, with Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup posting results through the week.
Third-quarter earnings for the S&P financial sector are expected to have grown 7.6 per cent 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, Intel and General Electric.
Eli Lilly's shares fell 7.8 per cent 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 were up 1.8 per cent 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 favouring 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 US exchanges, below the 7.6 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.