US STOCKS-S&P 500 hits new record high; financials lead

Wed Apr 10, 2013 11:48am EDT

* S&P 500 breaks through intraday record shortly after open

* FOMC minutes released, ahead of schedule, at 9 a.m. EDT

* Dow up 0.9 pct, S&P 500 up 1.1 pct, Nasdaq up 1.6 pct

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK, April 10 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose more than 1 percent on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 climbing to a new all-time intraday record as investors scooped up technology and financial shares that have lagged gains in other sectors recently.

The S&P 500 was the latest major U.S. stock market index to join the recent trend of repeatedly breaking record highs. The Dow Jones industrial average has been setting new highs for the past few weeks.

Financial shares helped lead the advance, with the S&P financial sector index gaining 1.1 percent, while the S&P information technology sector index gained 1.7 percent. In the past month, both sectors have lagged as investors pushed into more defensive areas, including healthcare and consumer staples.

The benchmark S&P 500 rose as high as 1,585.96, breaking the record intraday level of 1,576.09 set on Oct. 11, 2007.

The Federal Reserve unexpectedly released the minutes from its most recent policy-setting meeting five hours early. The minutes showed a few policymakers expected to taper the pace of asset purchases by mid-year and end them later this year, while several others expected to slow the pace a bit later and halt the quantitative easing program by year-end.

The softer economic data that has been seen since the Fed last met is likely to give the market a reason to not pay much attention to the time frame for ending QE discussed in the minutes, said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones in St Louis.

"I was a little surprised that they were discussing the end of QE by the end of the year as though somehow all the signs we were seeing suggested the economy was going to continue to show strong gains," Warne said.

"At the time of those minutes, we knew the sequester was quite likely to have a negative effect and that there were many other things suggesting we would see not as strong economic growth through the middle of the year."

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 127.67 points, or 0.87 percent, at 14,801.13. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 17.16 points, or 1.09 percent, at 1,585.77. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 51.95 points, or 1.60 percent, at 3,289.81.

Whether the stock market rally can push even higher will depend on how the earnings season shapes up, Warne said.

"Overall, the trend is higher, but we could certainly see disappointing earnings be a catalyst for a short-term pullback."

Among the 5 percent of S&P 500 companies that have reported results so far, almost three-quarters have topped expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data.

But quarterly profits are expected to grow just 1.5 percent from a year ago, down from a January estimate of 4.3 percent. The lowered expectations could make it easier for companies to beat analysts' estimates and propel the market further.

Family Dollar Stores reported weaker-than-expected profit on Wednesday. Its stock was flat at $59.80, after earlier falling 2.6 percent to a session low of $58.27.

Hospital operator Health Management Associates Inc cut its outlook for 2013 earnings and revenue, citing weak patient-admission figures in the first quarter of the year. The stock slid 16.8 percent to $10.47.

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