* Dow heads for seventh straight week of gains
* Biogen, Gilead lead health-sector gains
* Dow up 0.1 pct, S&P 500 up 0.3 pct, Nasdaq up 0.5 pct
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Nov 22 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Friday in the absence of economic data and ahead of a holiday-shortened week in the United States, a day after the Dow industrials closed above 16,000 for the first time.
The Dow’s record high came on Thursday as data on inflation and the labor market eased concerns that the Federal Reserve might be ready to begin scaling back a stimulus program that has lifted the benchmark S&P 500 more than 26 percent this year.
Friday’s modest advance puts the Dow on track to close a seventh straight week of gains, its longest streak since an eight-week rally between December 2010 and January 2011.
Dennis Lockhart, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said on CNBC on Friday that reducing the pace of the central bank’s bond-buying program will be on the table at its December policy meeting. He added that monetary policy is likely to be very accommodative for some time even after the reduction process is put into place.
Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co., in Lake Oswego, Oregon, said that ”the market has basically geared itself now, knowing the Fed will be discussing tapering. Most likely, the timetable remains somewhat indefinite, but the topic is on the table, and prices have adjusted accordingly.
“In the meantime, $85 billion a month keeps swirling into investor hands, and some of that finds its way out into the financial markets, including the stock market,” Dickson added.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 19.52 points or 0.12 percent, to 16,029.51. The S&P 500 gained 5.70 points or 0.32 percent, to 1,801.55. The Nasdaq Composite added 18.847 points or 0.47 percent, to 3,988.002.
If the S&P 500 closes this week in the black, it will match the seven-week string of gains it recorded to start the year.
U.S. equity markets will be closed on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday. They will be open for half a day next Friday.
Health-care sector stocks led Friday’s advance, with the NYSEArca Biotech Index driven higher by a surge in Biogen Idec. Shares of Biogen shot up 12.7 percent to $284.55 after the company won 10 years of regulatory protection for its multiple sclerosis drug, Tecfidera, in Europe.
European regulators also recommended approval of a new drug for hepatitis C treatment from Gilead Sciences and its shares jumped 4.6 percent to $74.90.
Ariad Pharmaceuticals said European regulators recommended the continued use of a leukemia drug, Iclusig, whose U.S. sale was suspended due to safety concerns, pushing the company’s shares up 40.9 percent to $3.93.
Intel fell 5.2 percent to $23.93 and was the biggest drag on both the Dow and S&P 500 after Wall Street came away from its investor meeting craving more evidence that the chipmaker can forge a strong mobile presence to drive up revenue and margins.
Shares of Splunk Inc jumped 20.5 percent to $72.18 a day after the data analytics software maker reported better-than-expected quarterly results and raised its full-year revenue forecast.
In the media sector, Charter Communications is nearing an agreement with banks to raise funds for a bid for Time Warner Cable, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the situation. Time Warner Cable shares rose 8.8 percent to $131.52.
Shares of Ross Stores slumped 5.7 percent to $75.71 a day after the retailer’s earnings included a disappointing outlook for the fourth quarter.
Foot Locker shares rose 4.8 percent to $38.54 after the retailer posted third-quarter earnings.