Stocks finished modestly higher in lackluster trading on Monday, with the Dow and S&P 500 closing at new highs, as investors digested a handful of mixed economic data ahead this week's slew of earnings reports.
"The second half is underway, and things are already looking encouraging," said Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ. "Catalysts for the market's advance, as well as our own optimism, are found in our interpretation of historical precedents, economic projections, fundamental forecasts and technical considerations.
"While we expect the trend to be the same, we think the magnitude of advance will be less, but the volatility will be greater," he said.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended 19 points higher, led by Boeing. The Dow is within touching distance of its all-time high of 15,542.40 hit on May 22.
The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also finished slightly higher, posting their eighth-straight rally. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, closed below 14.
Among key S&P sectors, telecoms led the laggards, while utilities edged higher.
On the economic front, retail sales rose just 0.4 percent in June, according to the Commerce Department, missing expectations for a gain of 0.8 percent. It was still the third straight month of gains in sales and followed a revised 0.5 percent rise in May.
Meanwhile, growth in New York state's manufacturing sector accelerated to 9.46 in July from 7.84 in June, according to the New York Federal Reserve. Economists surveyed by Reuters expected a reading of 5. A reading above zero indicates expansion.
And U.S. business inventories ticked up 0.1 percent in May, according to the Commerce Department. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast inventories unchanged in May after a previously reported 0.3 percent gain.
China's annual economic growth slowed to 7.5 percent in the second quarter of 2013, from 7.7 percent, marking the slowest pace of year-over-year growth since the third quarter of last year. Still, markets cheered the news as many traders expected a figure below 7.5 percent following the recent slew of disappointing trade and manufacturing data from the world's second-largest economy.
(Read More: Chinese growth seems a bit too Goldilocks to some)
The Shanghai Composite rallied 1 percent on the news, but gains across Asia were capped by light trading volumes, with Japanese markets shut for a public holiday.
Later this week, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is expected to be on Capitol Hill for his annual testimony on the economy. Markets got a boost last week after Bernanke said monetary policy would remain intact for the foreseeable future, even if the unemployment rate hit the Fed's target of 6.5 percent.
Stocks rallied sharply last week, with the Dow and S&P finishing at fresh highs. The S&P and Nasdaq posted their second best weekly gains this year.
(Read More: Bob Doll: Only strong earnings can keep rally going)
First published July 15 2013, 1:04 PM