Stocks Gain As Dow Extends Record Rise

U.S. stocks on Wednesday finished mostly higher, with the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average extending its record rise after an encouraging report on private-payrolls growth.

The S&P 500 index — a broader gauge of the stock market — posted slight gains, ending the session 24 points from its all-time closing high recorded in October of 2007.

The market’s bull run has come amid central-bank monetary easing both in the United States and overseas, with the European Central Bank and Japan’s central bank among those participating.

“I wonder is it counter-intuitive optimism growing from Japan to the U.S. that they are going to keep the punch bowl out there. Central bankers are all in; how can you collectively fight all of them, if you’re betting against them, that’s a big bet to make,” said Nick Raich, CEO of the Earnings Scout, an independent microeconomic research firm specializing in corporate earnings trends in Cleveland, Ohio.

A day after closing at an all-time high, the Dow Jones Industrial Average  furthered its gains, rising as much as 66 points and ending up 42.47 points, or 0.3%, at 14,296.24.

Materials and financial companies fared best among the 10 major industry groups on the S&P 500 index, which added 1.67 point, or 0.1%, to 1,541.46, leaving it 24 points shy of its record-high finish hit in October 2007.

“We’re approaching all-time highs because we’re at all-time levels of profit,” said Raich. “Earnings growth for the S&P 500  reaccelerated form the third to fourth quarter, but there is going to be a temporary slowdown in first quarter,” he added.

The Nasdaq Composite  lost 1.77 point, or 0.1%, to 3,222.37, hit in part by a 1.3% decline in shares of Apple Inc. .

For every two stocks falling nearly three gained on the New York Stock Exchange, where almost 684 million shares traded. Composite volume approached 3.7 billion.

Data showed a welcome rise in private-sector payrolls in February, a less-than-expected drop in U.S. factory orders the month before and evidence of slowing retail sales from the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book.

“I am getting worried about a temporary growth scare coming up,” Raich said.

Ahead of the open, stock-index futures extended gains after Automatic Data Processing Inc. reported private-sector jobs rose by 198,000 last month, exceeding expectations. The January jobs data were revised higher.

“It all looks good; the numbers are showing roughly 200,000 now for the last two months,” said Raich.

Other Wednesday data had the government reporting orders for U.S. factory goods in January declined by the most in five months, hit by weak appetite for military hardware and commercial aircraft.

Among individual stock movers, Staples Inc.  slid 7.2% after the office-supplies retailer projected profit beneath estimates.

VeriFone Systems Inc.  added 8.6% after the manufacturer of credit-card terminals reported earnings that topped expectations.

Shares of Best Buy Co.  rose 1.9% after Jefferies Group Inc. hiked its view on the retailer to buy from hold.