Dow, S&P 500 End at Record Highs on Upbeat Data

Markets Reuters

U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday, with both the Dow and S&P 500 ending at records, as data pointed to improving conditions in the U.S. services sector, boosting cyclical stocks.

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Both the Dow and S&P also ticked to intraday records in a quiet session, with many traders looking ahead to tomorrow's key meeting of the European Central Bank.

Cyclical stocks, tied to the pace of economic growth, led on the day, with industrials <.SPLRCI>, materials <.SPLRCM> and energy <.SPNY> all up more than 1 percent. Telecom <.SPLRCL>, utilities <.SPLRCU> and consumer staples <.SPLRCS> declined; all are viewed as defensive plays.

The rise in energy came alongside a 0.8 percent rise in the price of crude oil. While the sector rose for a third straight day - up 3.2 percent over that period - it is the only industry group to be negative for 2014.

Cimarex Energy <XEC.N> was one of the S&P 500's top gainers, up 5.1 percent at $108.17. Diamond Offshore <DO.N> rose 3.6 percent to $31.44.

"Energy is the undervalued sector of the market, but trying to call the bottom of oil prices is like trying to catch a falling knife. There's value to be had, but also might be some more pain along the way," said Joseph Quinlan, chief market strategist at U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management in New York.

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A gauge of growth in the U.S. services sector rose more than expected in November even as its employment component dipped, according to ISM, while Markit's reading of the sector showed growth, though as a slower clip.

Momentum is building for the ECB to launch a program of sovereign-bond buying to boost the bloc's struggling economy, with most signs pointing to March for a decision. The ECB meets on Thursday.

"We're looking for any stimulus, and are vulnerable to no additional actions being taken," said Quinlan, who helps oversee $330 billion in assets. "We'll feel more confident about global prospects if we have a more proactive ECB."

After the market closed, Aeropostale Inc <ARO.N> shares dropped 6 percent to $3 after its third-quarter results.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 33.07 points, or 0.18 percent, to 17,912.62, the S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 7.78 points, or 0.38 percent, to 2,074.33 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 18.66 points, or 0.39 percent, to 4,774.47.

NYSE advancers outnumbered decliners 2,012 to 1,079, for a 1.86-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,674 issues rose and 1,036 fell, for a 1.62-to-1 ratio.

The S&P 500 posted 113 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 139 new highs and 72 new lows.

About 6.1 billion shares traded on all U.S. platforms, according to BATS exchange data.

(By Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Nick Zieminski)