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VOL. 37 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 08, 2013

S&P 500 nears record high; Dow heads for 10th gain

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NEW YORK (AP) — Encouraging news from the job market sent the stock market toward two milestones Wednesday: A record high close for the Standard & Poor's 500 index and the longest winning streak for the Dow Jones industrial average in more than 16 years.

The S&P 500 index gained six points to 1,560, a rise of 0.4 percent. It's just five points away from the peak it reached in October 2007.

The Dow rose 60 points, or 0.4 percent, to 14,516, putting the index on course for 10 straight days of gains. The last time that happened was November 1996. Hewlett-Packard led the Dow higher, rising more than 1 percent.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low last week, the Labor Department reported, implying that the job market is strengthening. The four-week average, a more stable measure, fell to the lowest since March 2008, four months after the economy slid into the Great Recession.

The government also delivered positive economic news on Wednesday, reporting that U.S. retail spending increased in February at the fastest pace in five months. That came despite higher payroll taxes kicking in at the beginning of the year.

"We've been getting some really good economic statistics: jobless claims today and retail sales yesterday," said Doug Cote, chief market strategist for ING U.S. Investment Management. "And that's positive for asset prices."

The gains were broad in early trading, though slight. Of the 10 industries in the S&P 500, health care companies were the only group to fall. The Nasdaq composite rose eight points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,253.

MGM Resorts International's stock gained 7 percent after its biggest shareholder, Kirk Kerkorian, requested permission to raise his stake in MGM to a quarter of its shares. MGM owns the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and other casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

Analysts say the stock market's surge this year will likely convince more people to move their cash into stocks. The Dow is up 10 percent so far this year, the S&P 9 percent.

"When the markets are running you just want to be part of it," Cote said. "Sitting on the sidelines is the wrong move."

So far, retail investors appear unsure. They put money in U.S. stock funds to start the year, but have withdrawn it for the last two weeks, according to a report out Wednesday from the Investment Company Institute.

The rally may have pushed the Dow to new record highs, but skeptics caution that markets regularly take sudden turns. Exactly one year ago, for instance, the Dow had already raced up 8 percent. But by June, all those gains were gone.

In the Treasury market, the yield on the 10-year note was 2.02 percent, unchanged from late Wednesday.

Among other stocks making big moves:

— Coldwater Creek jumped 10 percent after the retailer of women's clothing posted a loss late Wednesday that was smaller than analysts had expected. Its stock rose 32 cents to $3.53.

— Men's Wearhouse soared 20 percent after the clothing company said Wednesday that its quarterly loss shrank, helped by better sales. Men's Wearhouse gained $5.86 to $34.89.