Wall Street Looks to Extend Monthly Win Streak; Dow Eyes Record High

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Wall Street was set to cap the month in the green Thursday, with the major market averages extending winning streaks. The Dow also came in striking distance of its record closing high.

Today's Markets

As of 2:00 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 54.2 points, or 0.39%, to 14131, the S&P 500 climbed 7.8 points, or 0.52%, to 1524 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 17.4 points, or 0.55%, to 3180.

The markets have posted their best two-day run since January amid hopes the Federal Reserve will keep its aggressive easing alive and that the political situation in Italy won't tip Europe back into crisis mode. The Dow has tacked on 2.1% in so many days, and sits within 35 points of its record close. Meanwhile, the broad S&P 500 is looking to close out the month with gains of more than 1.2% in its fourth-straight monthly advance.

"While Italian politics has raised the risk of disruptive market outcomes that could derail the weak recovery, markets seem eager to downplay these risks," analysts at Barclays wrote to clients Wednesday morning. "Beyond Italian political risks, signs of stabilization continue to emerge."

The British bank notes that the U.S. economic picture continues to improve, especially with regard to the housing market.

Economic reports released on the day were mixed. The Commerce Department's second reading on fourth-quarter gross domestic product showed the economy expanded at an annualized pace of 0.1% in the fourth quarter, better than an initial estimate of a 0.1% contraction, but trailing estimates of 0.5% growth. The pace the economy hit in the final three months of the year is the lowest since the first quarter of 2011.

Meanwhile, the number of individuals who applied for first-time jobless benefits last week dropped by 22,000 to 344,000, coming in better than estimates of 360,000. The number of jobless claims has been falling in recent weeks, in choppy moves, as the labor market has been improving. The all-important monthly jobs report from February is on tap for next week.

The Chicago PMI gauge from the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago rose to 56.8 in February from 55.6 the month before, beating expectations of a drop to 54.3.

In commodities, oil prices were steady. The benchmark U.S. crude contract rose a penny, or 0.00%, to $92.77 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline dipped 0.22% to $2.85 a gallon. Gold slumped $4.20, or 0.26%, to $1,591 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 rose 0.13% to 2615, the English FTSE 100 gained 0.35% to 6348 and the German DAX climbed 0.57% to 7719.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 surged 2.7% to 11559 and the Chinese Hang Seng soared 2% to 23020.