April Advance: Defensives Drive S&P to Record High

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The broad S&P 500 tacked on 1.8% in April, with traditional defensive plays like telecommunications and utilities leading the run higher.

Today's Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 21.1 points, or 0.14%, to 14840, the S&P 500 rose 4 points, or 0.25%, to 1598 and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 21.8 points, or 0.66%, to 3329.

The S&P closed out April at its highest level on record. All but two of the major sectors closed out the month in the green. The best performers were counter-cyclical sectors: telecommunications, utilities and consumer staples. The two worst performers were heavily economic and commodity sensitive issues, materials and energy.

For the month, the Dow and S&P both climbed 1.8%, while the Nasdaq jumped 1.9%. The Nasdaq also ended at its highest level since November 2000.

The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago’s PMI gauge fell to 49.0 in April from 52.4 the month before. Economists expected a slight uptick to 52.5. Readings above 50 point to expansion in the Midwest manufacturing sector, while those below indicate contraction. Regional manufacturing reads have generally been weak this month, with one from the Dallas Fed on Monday coming in far short of forecasts.

"This report is another sign that the economy is stuck on a shallow growth path," Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities USA wrote in an email.

Home prices in 20 major U.S. metropolitan areas climbed 0.3% in February from January on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, beating expectations of a gain of 0.2%, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller report. Prices rose 9.3% from the same month in 2012, also topping forecasts of a 9% advance.

The housing market has seen considerable recovery since the collapse in late 2007. Indeed, the Federal Reserve has cited the gains seen in housing as critical to the broader recovery.

A separate report from the Conference Board showed consumer sentiment surging far more than expected in April. The gauge of zipped to 68.1 in April from March, topping economists' estimates of 60.8.

"Consumer confidence has been volatile in recent months; while we expect that underlying recoveries in housing and labor markets will gradually push confidence higher, it could remain volatile on a month-to-month basis as fiscal tightening continues to take effect," Cooper Howes, an economist at Barclays wrote in a note to clients.

The Fed also kicks off its two-day policy meeting on the day. A statement is due on Wednesday. Economists broadly expect the central bank to hold interest rates at historic lows -- per the unemployment and inflation targets it set -- and keep the pace of its asset purchases at $85 billion a month. However, Fed watchers will be looking for clues on when the central bank will begin tapering its vast quantitative easing program.

On the corporate front, IBM (NYSE:IBM) said its board approved a 12% dividend hike and a $5 billion share buyback plan. Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) revealed adjusted first-quarter profits of 54 cents a share, missing estimates by a penny. Sales of $13.5 billion also came in shy of expectations of $13.99 billion. Shares slid more than 3%.

Oil futures were solidly lower. The benchmark U.S. contract dipped $1.04, or 1.1%, to $93.46 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline fell 0.94% to $2.80 a gallon. In metals, gold advanced $4.70, or 0.32%, to $1,472 a troy once.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 dipped 0.18% to 2713, the English FTSE 100 fell 0.12% to 6450 and the German DAX rose 0.49% to 7912.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 slumped 0.17% to 13861 and the Chinese Hang Seng climbed 0.69% to 22737.