US STOCKS-S&P 500 gains for an 8th day, buoyed by Citigroup
* Dow, S&P 500 end at record highs for third day
* Citigroup shares climb after earnings
* Empire State manufacturing index up, but retail sales soft
* Leap Wireless shares more than double
* Dow up 0.1 pct, S&P 500 up 0.1 pct, Nasdaq up 0.2 pct
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, July 15 (Reuters) - Citigroup's solid earnings helped the S&P 500 end higher on Monday for an eighth straight day, the longest such streak since mid-January, though weak retail sales curbed the advance.
The Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 finished at record closing highs for the third consecutive session. The Nasdaq scored its highest close since September 2000.
Volume was the lowest of any full trading day this year, with just 4.89 billion shares trading on exchanges, based on the latest available data. This year, daily volume has averaged 6.4 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT.
Shares of Citigroup climbed 2 percent to $51.81 after the third-largest U.S. bank by assets reported a 26 percent increase in adjusted quarterly profit. The S&P 500 financial industry sector index gained 0.4 percent.
Leap Wireless International Inc shares more than doubled after AT&T Inc said late Friday it would buy the company for $1.19 billion and at least two brokerages raised their ratings on Leap's stock. Leap, which was among the Nasdaq's most-active stocks, ended at $16.95 - up 112.41 percent.
The day's economic data was mixed, however, with growth in New York state manufacturing for July accelerating, while June retail sales fell short of expectations. May business inventories barely increased.
Investors are watching for changes in earnings or economic news that could derail the market's rally. Stocks have climbed this year, except for a late-May selloff triggered by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's comments, which raised the prospect of trimming the Fed's $85 billion in monthly stimulus. The S&P 500 has gained 18 percent since Dec. 31.
Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at the ConvergEx Group in New York, said the fact that Citigroup and other financial companies have done well this earnings season is a positive sign.
"We believe the economy is getting better, so they should be doing well. That's enough to offset retail sales data," Colas said.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 19.96 points, or 0.13 percent, to 15,484.26, a record closing high. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 2.31 points, or 0.14 percent, to finish at 1,682.50, also a record. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 7.41 points, or 0.21 percent, to end at 3,607.49 - its highest close since September 2000.
Much of the focus this week will be on earnings. Analysts expect S&P 500 companies' second-quarter earnings to have grown 2.8 percent from a year earlier, with revenue up 1.5 percent from a year ago, Thomson Reuters data showed.
While earnings growth has slowed in recent quarters, it is expected to pick up the last half of the year. Bank of America-Merrill Lynch raised its year-end target for the S&P 500 to 1,750 from 1,600, citing expected earnings growth.
Most companies also are exceeding analysts' earnings expectations, as they have done in recent quarters. Of the companies that have reported second-quarter results so far, 66.7 percent are beating earnings estimates. Revenue results are faring worse.
S&P 500 industrial shares rose after airlines expressed confidence over the weekend in the safety of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner following a fire on one of the jets last week. Boeing gained 3.7 percent to $105.66 and ranked as the Dow's top performer.
Utilities outperformed other sectors in the S&P 500, with the sector index up 1.6 percent. Utility companies, including FirstEnergy Corp and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc, were among the sector's best performers after power grid operators in the U.S. Northeast said they had enough electricity to keep air conditioners running this week through an anticipated heat wave.
First Solar Inc was the S&P 500's best percentage gainer, rising 5.5 percent to $50.27.
Shares of Tiffany & Co jumped 3.6 percent to $79.78 in active trading after Stifel Nicolaus upgraded the high-end jeweler's stock to a "buy" from a "hold" and set a price target of $92.
On the flip side, shares of Ingredion dropped 9.9 percent to $62.57, a day after the company warned on earnings.
Advancers outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange by a ratio of about 19 to 11, while on the Nasdaq, 16 stocks rose for nearly every nine that fell.
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