Wall Street up, S&P 500 sets another record closing high
The S&P 500 index climbed to its third record closing high in four sessions today as traders shrugged off data that showed the economy shrank in the first quarter and bet on improvement in the second quarter.
New claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to a strengthening labor market and giving investors a reason to buy US stocks. Data from the Commerce Department showed that gross domestic product contracted for the first time in three years in the first quarter, although signs indicated it has rebounded.
"The headline figure was weaker than expected, but it was mainly due to slower inventory growth, which bodes well for future growth, future orders, new orders," said Jeffrey Saut, chief investment strategist at Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The S&P 500 gained 10.25 points or 0.54 percent, to 1,920.03 - a record close and a lifetime intraday high.
Saut said that unless a decline materialized this week, the S&P 500 is "probably not going to come back below (the) 1,890 - 1,900 (level), which is where the near-term support is."
Citi analysts said the US economy could grow nearly 4 percent in the second quarter, while Goldman Sachs raised its estimate to 3.9 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 65.56 points or 0.39 percent, to 16,698.74. The Nasdaq Composite added 22.87 points or 0.54 percent, to 4,247.95.
European shares held near multi-year highs, with the region's main stock markets supported by prospects of new economic stimulus next week from the European Central Bank.
Utility stocks underperformed after Citigroup cut its ratings on some southern European stocks in the sector, such as Enel. Regulatory pressures and increasing competition could affect the companies' earnings, the bank said.
Citigroup's downgrades led to a 0.2 percent decline by the STOXX Europe 600 Utilities Index, compared with a 0.1 percent rise on the broader STOXX 600 index. The utilities index has risen about 13 percent since the start of 2014, making it one of the top-performing sectors.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index closed up 0.1 percent at 1,379.05 points, within a whisker of a near six-year high of 1,380.52 points that it reached this week.
Germany's DAX was flat at 9,938.90 points after rising to a record high of 9,957.87 points on Wednesday. France's CAC was flat at 4,530.51 points.
Meanwhile, Japan's Nikkei share average rose marginally, extending its gains into a sixth day as strong Asian equities supported sentiment, but trading was choppy as some investors booked profits from the recent gains.
The Nikkei ended 0.1 percent higher at 14,681.72 after trading in negative territory.The broader Topix gained 0.2 percent to 1,200.68, while the new JPX-Nikkei Index 400 added 0.2 percent to 10,946.83.