Associated Press

NEW YORK — U.S. stocks meandered Thursday as the eighth anniversary for the current bull market turned out to be a quiet one.

Large-company stocks finished mostly higher, but declines in smaller stocks across the board meant that more companies fell than rose on the New York Stock Exchange.

The market started out with small gains, then dipped in the early afternoon. Thanks to late gains for energy companies, major indexes turned higher near the end of trading. Industrial companies dipped as heavy machinery maker Caterpillar continues to slide. Health care companies climbed and banks rose along with bond yields. Trading was light following a three-day losing streak.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index picked up 1.89 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,364.87 Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 2.46 points to 20,858.19. The Nasdaq composite rose 1.25 points to 5,838.81. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks lost 5.92 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,360.12. More than two-thirds of the stocks on the NYSE ended lower.

The S&P 500 is up 250 percent since March 9, 2009, when it bottomed out in the depths of the financial crisis. The current bull run is the second-longest since World War II and it may have a while to go, as wages are growing and hiring appears to be on the rise.

“Bull markets typically don’t die of old age,” said David Lefkowitz, senior equity strategist at UBS Wealth Management Americas. “They typically die because there’s a downturn in the economy.”

Lefkowitz said there are few signs that will happen any time soon. While the Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates next week, inflation remains low and he said the Fed’s actions shouldn’t stifle economic growth.

“The key question is how quickly does inflation continue to rise from here and how aggressive does the Fed need to get,” he said.

Health care companies made the biggest gains. The leaders included Johnson & Johnson, which rose $1.85, or 1.5 percent, to $125.95. Cancer drug maker Celgene added $2.09, or 1.7 percent, to $125.13 while medical device maker Edwards Lifesciences contributed $3.53, or 3.9 percent, to $93.06.

Crude oil prices continued to slip after the U.S. government reported a huge buildup in fuel stockpiles Wednesday. Oil is now trading at its lowest price since November, before OPEC countries agreed to reduce production in an effort to shore up prices.

Benchmark U.S. oil fell $1, or 2 percent, to $49.28 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 92 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $52.19 a barrel in London. Energy companies lost ground early in the day but jumped in the final hour of trading.

Bond prices fell further. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.60 percent, near its highest level in the past year, from 2.56 percent. Banks and other financial firms moved up. Wells Fargo added 49 cents to $58.70 and Intercontinental Exchange picked up 67 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $60.06.

Caterpillar fell another $1.84, or 2 percent, to $91.39 as the government investigates the company’s taxes and accounting. The stock is down almost 8 percent since March 1. Elsewhere, American Airlines led airlines lower after it reported weak February traffic.