March 15, 2012 / 10:19 AM / 6 years ago

S&P ends over 1,400 for first time since 2008 credit crisis

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The S&P 500 closed above 1,400 for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis on Thursday as stocks resumed the upward climb that has produced a steady stream of gains this year.

The benchmark index is up for six of the past seven sessions and is on target for its best week since early February. Financial stocks .GSPF, which have dragged lately, led the day with the S&P sector index up 1.9 percent as another round of better-than-expected economic data bolstered investors’ enthusiasm.

“The data is lifting us today, but so is the momentum of the market,” said Rex Macey, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust in Atlanta, Georgia, which manages about $60 billion.

“People are getting more comfortable with the S&P above 1,400 and financials leading, which by itself is indicative of a sigh of relief. The trend is your friend, and lately the trend has been higher.”

Though 1,400, which marks the highest level for the index since June 2008, does not have much technical importance, it is viewed as a bullish psychological marker.

Some investors have called for a pullback, given the 11 percent rise in the S&P 500 since the start of the year. However, interruptions in the rally have been brief, lasting only a couple of days at the most.

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) pulled back 0.7 percent to $585.56 at the close, ending a six-day streak of gains, though it hit a new all-time high at $600.01 in early trading. Some analysts have predicted the stock will move to $700 within 12 months.

New claims for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell back to a four-year low last week, another sign of improving labor market conditions, while producer prices, excluding food and energy, were contained.

Manufacturing data in New York and the U.S. mid-Atlantic region also improved, according to regional Federal Reserve surveys.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 58.66 points, or 0.44 percent, to 13,252.76, closing out a seventh straight day of gains. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index .SPX advanced 8.32 points, or 0.60 percent, to 1,402.60 at the close. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC gained 15.64 points, or 0.51 percent, to 3,056.37.

Trading was also volatile at the start of “quadruple witching,” the dates of expiration and settlement of four types of equity futures and options contracts.

Helping transport stocks but hurting energy companies was Britain’s decision to cooperate with the United States in a bilateral agreement to release strategic oil stocks in an effort to prevent high fuel prices derailing economic growth in a U.S. election year, according to two British sources.

Brent crude futures fell 1.1 percent. The Dow Jones Transportation Average .DJT rose 3.3 percent, while the S&P energy index added 0.1 percent.

    Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) fell 1.4 percent to $19.91 after it agreed to buy NDS for $5 billion, the Dow component’s first major acquisition in over two years.

    Semiconductors moved higher, led by Advanced Micro Devices Inc AMD.N, which jumped 6.3 percent to $8.25 after Jefferies upgraded the stock to “buy.” The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index .SOX gained 2 percent.

    Ross Stores Inc (ROST.O) reported a higher profit for the holiday quarter as shoppers sought out popular clothing brands at discount prices, and the off-price chain forecast “respectable” sales and profit gains for this fiscal year. Shares dropped 0.4 percent to $56.35. The Morgan Stanley retail index .MVR rose 0.8 percent.

    Three initial public offerings made their debuts on Thursday: cloud computing-based software company Demandware Inc DWRE.N, analog chipmaker M/A-Com Technology Solutions Holdings (MTSI.O) and Allison Transmission Holdings (ALSN.N).

    Demandware surged 47.4 percent to $23.59, M/A-Com advanced 8.2 percent to $20.55 and Allison Transmission rose 1.7 percent to $23.40.

    About 58 percent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed in positive territory, while on the Nasdaq, 64 percent of issues closed higher.

    About 7.05 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the NYSE Amex and the Nasdaq, below last year’s daily average of 7.84 billion.

    Editing by Jan Paschal

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