S&P Stock Index Closes At Record High

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NEW YORK, NY – S&P gains 0.4% for the day, closing at record high of 1,569. Dow posts best first quarter since 1998, adding 11%.

Finally. The S&P 500 topped its all-time closing high Thursday, after flirting with the milestone for weeks.

The benchmark index gained 5 points to rise as high as 1568.30, inching above its record closing high of 1565.15 reached in October 2007.

Despite the new milestone, trading was relatively calm as investors monitored the ongoing crisis in Cyprus and mulled over new economic data in the United States. The Dow Jones industrial average, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq were up between 0.2% and 0.3%. Volume was low ahead of Good Friday. The markets will be closed in the United States and most of Europe Friday.

But the first quarter of 2013 has been far from quiet. The Dow, which has been trading at record highs since early March, is up more than 11% and poised to book its best first quarter since 1998. The S&P 500 is up almost 10%. The Nasdaq is up 8%.

The biggest gains were logged in January, but March has been a solid month for stocks as well, with all three indexes up more than 3%. Stocks continued to rally in the holiday-shortened week despite Cyprus concerns. The Dow is up just 0.3% for the week, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq are up about 0.6%.

Despite the big run-up this year, experts argue that valuations remain attractive for U.S. stocks. The S&P 500 is trading at just 16 times 2012 earnings. At its all-time high in October 2007, the S&P 500’s valuation was just above 17 times profits for the past 12 months.

And looking at earnings projections, stocks still appear reasonably valued. The S&P 500 is trading at just 14 times 2013 estimates.

Winners and losers: The best-performing stock of the year in the S&P 500 is Netflix. Shares have more than doubled in the last few months as investors have become optimistic about the company’s growth prospects, despite a series of missteps over the last couple of years. Best Buy and Hewlett-Packard, struggling companies that are in the middle of turnaround efforts, are the next strongest performers, with shares up 87% and 65% respectively.

Some of the weaker links are JC Penney, which is having more trouble than success with its makeover plan, as well as coal company Peabody Energy and mining firm Cliffs Natural Resources.

Cyprus banks back to business: Banks in Cyprus reopened Thursday morning after being closed since March 16. The island nation plans to limit the amount of money that depositors can withdraw in an attempt to prevent bank runs.

Cyprus agreed early Monday to raise billions of euros from big depositors at the Bank of Cyprus and Popular Bank of Cyprus, and to shrink its banking sector in return for a €10 billion European Union bailout.

U.S. economy humming along: Back in the United States, the government released its weekly data on initial jobless claims and its final reading on fourth-quarter GDP.

Jobless claims totaled 357,000 in the week ended March 23, an increase of 16,000 from the prior week and much worse than expected. The forecast called for a total of 335,000, according to a consensus of economists complied by Briefing.com.

The final government report for fourth-quarter GDP showed an annual increase of 0.4%, slightly higher than the expected increase of 0.3%. The prior reading showed the economy grew at a 0.1% pace.

What’s moving: Shares of Blackberry rose after it reported a surprise profit. Sales of struggling smartphone maker however fell short of expectations.

Shares of Pinnacle Foods, owner of brands including Duncan Hines and Birds Eye, rose 12% in their stock market debut. Pinnacle raised $580 million in its initial public offering after pricing shares at the high ends its range. The company is backed by private equity firm Blackstone.

Shares of Deckers Outdoor, which owns the Ugg boots brand, jumped after an analyst at Jefferies upgraded the stock and gave it a price target of $100 a share, nearly double its current price.

Dollar pulls back: European markets finished with solid gains, while Asian markets ended lower.

The dollar fell against the euro, British pound and the Japanese yen.

Oil priced gained slightly, while gold prices edged lower.

The price on the 10-year Treasury slipped, pushing the yield up to 1.86% from 1.85% late Wednesday.

What’s buzzing: Wall Street strategists are betting the rally will continue. Wells Fargo Advisors increased its year-end 2013 target range for the S&P 500 to 1575-1625 from an earlier forecast of 1525-1575.

“Investors now appear to be more focused upon the potential for continuing global economic growth, said Scott Wren, senior equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors. “We anticipate investor confidence will continue to lift, slowly catching up with consumer confidence.”

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