U.S. Stocks Tally April Gains; S&P 500 Hits Record

U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 index posting its longest monthly win streak since September 2009, as investors cheered corporate earnings and ongoing monetary stimulus.

The bull market, which entered a fifth year in March, has been “driven by strong earnings and three rounds of bond purchases by the [Federal Reserve],” said Alan Skrainka, chief investment officer at Cornerstone Wealth Management in Des Peres, Mo.

‘It (order that caused mini flash crash of Symantec stock) wasn’t necessarily an erroneous trade, as we’re not aware of any requests to have it removed or retracted. In this case, they did mean to sell it, but skipped a few important steps.’

Chris Paden, Symantec Corp.

Skrainka and other analysts also cited the market’s lofty levels as part of Tuesday’s equation, which had the Dow Jones Industrial Average   falling as much as 84 points and rising as much as 21, and the S&P 500  trading in a 10-point range on either side of neutral.

“We’re coming off a peak,” said Alan Skrainka, who chalked up the day’s action to the “normal ebb and flow” of the equities market.

On Tuesday, the S&P 500 added 3.96 points to a record-high close of 1,597.57, with health-care companies driving losses and technology the best performing of its 10 major industry sectors.

The S&P 500 gained 1.8% in April, marking the index’s longest winning run since a seven-month stretch that ended in September 2009.

“There’s some technical resistance right at the high,” Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at the Schwab Center for Financial Research, said of the 1,593.61 close by the S&P 500  on Monday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 21.05 points to 14,839.80, leaving it up 1.8% for the month.

Blue-chip losses were led by Pfizer Inc. , after the drug manufacturer cut its 2013 profit outlook and reported first-quarter earnings that missed Wall Street estimates.

International Business Machines Corp.  gained after the computer-services provider hiked its dividend and approved a $5 billion share buyback.

The Nasdaq Composite  rose 21.77 points to 3,328.79, with the tech-laden index climbing 1.9% in April.

Apple Inc.  shares surged after the iPhone maker detailed a six-part bond offering in a regulatory filing on Tuesday. Read story about potential impact on the bond market.

The order book, one means of measuring investor demand for the debt, hit $50 billion, according to Bloomberg News, which cited a person familiar with the transaction. The offering could pan out to be the largest non-bank bond sale in history, as Apple looks for cash to reward shareholders.

For every share that fell, roughly two rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 887 million shares traded. Composite volume approached 3.7 billion.

Oil prices fell in April, with crude futures   down almost 4% for the month. Gold futures lost nearly 8% in April.

Moving issues

Shares of Symantec Corp.  fell as much as 11% before their trading was temporarily halted by the Nasdaq, with no apparent news prompting the slide that occurred just after 10 a.m. Eastern. A company spokesperson said a large order to sell shares without any specific floor price prompted the flash crash and triggered the circuit breaker.

The entity behind the order to sell around 511,000 shares did so “without any type of limits. It wasn’t necessarily an erroneous trade, as we’re not aware of any requests to have it removed or retracted. In this case, they did mean to sell it, but skipped a few important steps,” said Symantec spokesperson Chris Paden.

Other notable movers had Aetna Inc.’s  shares rising after the health insurer reported a slight drop in first-quarter earnings but raised its full-year operating-earnings estimate.

Best Buy Co.  shares rallied after the electronics retailer said it would sell its 50% stake in Carphone Warehouse Group’s  European business to Carphone Warehouse.

Pitney Bowes Inc.  retreated after releasing first-quarter results and cutting its dividend.

The day’s economic reports were mixed. The S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index rose 0.3% in February and 9.3% year-over-year, while a gauge of manufacturing in the Chicago area slid to a more-than three-year low in April and the Conference Board’s consumer-confidence index jumped sharply in April.

The Federal Open Market Committee began its two-day meeting on monetary policy on Tuesday, with a decision slated for Wednesday. With inflation below the Fed’s 2% target, and data last week showing the U.S. economy growing less than expected in the first quarter, the FOMC is expected to keep its bond-buying program at $85 billion a month.

Recent weak economic reports “probably put the Fed hawks back in their cage. This in turn adds fuel for the equity markets,” noted Elliot Spar, market strategist at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc., in afternoon commentary.

But, if all the quantitative easing can only get 2% annualized GDP growth and “major companies continue to come up short with respect to revenue, what will be the catalyst for the bull’s next leg up?” he said.

On Thursday, the European Central Bank’s governing council will hold a monetary-policy meeting and could trim its benchmark interest rate.