US STOCKS-Wall St rises as financials lead before earnings

* Republicans unveil new healthcare bill

* Banks due to kick off earnings season Friday

* Indexes up: Dow 0.1 pct, S&P 0.2 pct, Nasdaq 0.2 pct
(Updates to close)

By Kimberly Chin

NEW YORK, July 13 (Reuters) – Wall Street posted slight
gains on Thursday and the Dow hit another record high close,
with financials rising ahead of profit reports due Friday from
several big U.S. banks.

The financial index was the best performer among the
11 major S&P sectors, ending up 0.61 percent.

Quarterly earnings kick off on Friday with three of the
biggest U.S. banks including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo
and Citigroup reporting results.

“People are a trying to buy in ahead of tomorrow,” said Brad
McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial in
Waltham, Massachusetts.

Analysts estimate second-quarter earnings for S&P 500
companies rose 7.8 percent from a year ago, with financials
projected to have had the third-best profit growth among
sectors, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Over the last seven trading days, investors have more than
doubled the amount of cash invested in a key financial sector
fund, betting that second-quarter bank earnings will be strong.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 20.95 points,
or 0.1 percent, to 21,553.09, the S&P 500 gained 4.61
points, or 0.19 percent, to 2,447.86 and the Nasdaq Composite
added 13.27 points, or 0.21 percent, to 6,274.44.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told a Senate panel on
Thursday that it would be “quite challenging” for U.S. growth to
reach a 3-percent target set by President Donald Trump.

The S&P 500 healthcare index was up 0.09 percent,
barely moving on news of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell’s unveiling of a revised healthcare bill.

“Even if this bill is passed, there will be multiple
iterations of healthcare legislation to come,” said Jamie Cox,
managing partner at Harris Financial Group in Richmond,

“This is not a watershed moment like the Affordable Care
Act, where it altered the healthcare industry,” he said.

Hospital and insurer groups have been vocal against proposed
Medicaid cuts which could result in lower revenues for hospitals
like Community Health Systems Inc and Medicaid insurance
specialists like Molina Healthcare and Centene Corp

Investors are eager to move past the healthcare bill and
onto comprehensive tax reform, though Congress’s ability to
address it soon are in doubt, Cox said.
Target Corp rose 4.8 percent after an upbeat
second-quarter forecast. The news boosted other retailers, with
Wal-Mart up 1.5 percent and Costco edging up
1.2 percent.

Delta Air Lines Inc on Thursday reported a 21
percent drop in second-quarter profit because of sharply higher
operating costs, despite higher passenger unit revenue, sending
its shares down about 1.8 percent.

About 5.8 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges,
below the 6.8 billion daily average for the past 20 trading
days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a
1.11-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.01-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

(Additional reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch in New York and
by Ankur Banerjee and Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Editing by
Arun Koyyur and Nick Zieminski)