June 14, 2018 / 6:59 PM / 6 months ago

US STOCKS-S&P 500, Nasdaq edge higher as ECB puts off rate hike

* U.S. May retail sales double analyst expectations

* Comcast stock up after $65 bln Fox offer

* Bank stocks down as U.S. Treasury yields fall

* Dow down 0.2 pct, S&P up 0.2 pct, Nasdaq up 0.8 pct (Updates to late afternoon, changes dateline to NEW YORK, changes byline)

By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK, June 14 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 and Nasdaq rose on Thursday after the European Central Bank said it would not raise interest rates until mid-2019, a day after the U.S. Federal Reserve increased its key rate and hinted at two more hikes by the end of 2018.

The ECB decided to end its bond-purchase program at the close of the year and said rates would stay unchanged until the summer of 2019.

The Fed’s upbeat assessment of the economy was followed by Thursday’s better-than-expected retail sales data while jobless claims showed unemployment rolls falling to a near 44-1/2 year low point, echoing the central bank’s optimism.

The gains come on the heels of Wednesday’s late session volatility as the number of expected Fed rate hikes this year rose from three to four, prompting a broad sell-off.

“Everyone’s been worried about rising rates, but rising rates are indicative of economic growth and that’s good news,” said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at Voya Investment Management in New York.

“I think the market is incorrect in believing that we’re somehow in a secular stagnation story, when really we’re in a stealth economic boom. And that will continue to drive markets higher,” Cote said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 42.73 points, or 0.17 percent, to 25,158.47, the S&P 500 gained 5.42 points, or 0.20 percent, to 2,781.05 and the Nasdaq Composite added 57.69 points, or 0.75 percent, to 7,753.39.

Of the 11 major sectors of the S&P 500, seven were in positive territory.

The rate-sensitive financial sector was the biggest percentage loser of the S&P 500, led by a 1.7 percent decline in JP Morgan Chase shares, as U.S. Treasury yields fell on news that the ECB holding rates steady for longer than many investors expected.

Among sectors, the biggest percentage gainers were telecom and utilities and consumer discretionaries .

Microsoft Corp shares helped the tech sector advance, rising 0.5 percent on news that it was working on technology to automate retail purchases in a challenge to Amazon.com .

Twenty-First Century Fox was up 1.9 percent after Comcast offered $65 billion in an effort to out-bid Walt Disney Co’s merger offer by 20 percent.

Disney shares advanced 2.2 percent, providing the biggest boost to the Dow.

Shares of Royal Caribbean Cruises jumped 5.7 percent after the company bought a 66.7 percent stake in privately-held Silversea Cruises for about $1 billion.

Boeing Co was the biggest drag on the Dow, down 0.6 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.26-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.09-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 33 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 144 new highs and 23 new lows. (Reporting by Stephen Culp Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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