So-called defensive industries, such as health care, consumer staples and utilities, which have stable earnings and dividends, have led the market rally this year. Investors have been seeking out stocks that give them similar characteristics to debt investments after a powerful rally in bonds over the last year pushed yields sharply lower. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note has traded below 2 percent for most of the last year.
The 10-year yield fell to 1.76 percent Thursday from 1.81 percent a day earlier, within a fraction of its lowest level of the year. The note's yield has declined over the last month as demand for less risky assets increased following the financial crisis in Cyprus and signs of a slowdown in the U.S. The yield was as high as 2.06 percent on March 11.
Japanese stocks jumped and the yen sank after the country's central bank announced aggressive measures for getting the world's third-largest economy out of a two-decade slump. The Bank of Japan, under new Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, surprised markets by saying it would greatly increase the country's money supply with the goal of encouraging people and businesses to borrow and spend. The yen weakened 3.6 percent against the dollar, to 96.33 yen, while Tokyo's Nikkei stock index rose 2.2 percent to 12,634.54.
U.S.-listed shares of Japanese automakers rose sharply. A weaker yen would make Japanese vehicles less expensive in markets outside Japan, and therefore more competitive. The U.S. shares of Toyota rose $4.75, or 4.7 percent, to $105.63, Honda's rose $2.01, or 5.4 percent, to $39.21 and Nissan's rose $1.03, or 5.5 percent, to $19.85. Japanese electronics makers also rose. Sony rose 57 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $17 and Panasonic climbed 27 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $6.69.In other trading, the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 6.29 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,559.98. The Nasdaq composite fell rose 6.38 points, or 0.2 percent, to 3,224.98.