* Factory orders increase in July, Beige Book on tap
* Automakers post string August sales
* Indexes: Dow up 0.34 pct, S&P 500 up 0.17 pct, Nasdaq off
(Updates to market open; adds quote)
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Sept 3 U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday,
with the S&P 500 touching a new record high on optimism a
resolution would be reached between Ukraine and Russia and data
showing manufacturing activity continues to strengthen.
Ukraine said its president had agreed with Russia's Vladimir
Putin on steps towards a "ceasefire regime" in Kiev's conflict
with pro-Russian rebels, but the Kremlin denied any actual deal,
prompting confusion on the eve of a NATO summit.
Putin later said his views and those of Ukrainian President
Petro Poroshenko were "very close" on finding a political
solution to a conflict in eastern Ukraine and that a deal
between Kiev and the rebels could be reached by Friday.
Data continued to point to an improving U.S. economy. New
orders for manufactured goods increased a record 10.5 percent in
July. June's orders were revised to show a 1.5 percent increase
instead of the previously reported 1.1 percent rise.
"We've got a market that has been able to focus on
fundamentals and to a certain extent put some of the
geopolitical concerns on the back burner," said Art Hogan, chief
market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.
"Now that some of those geopolitical concerns may well be
decreasing, an increase in focus on fundamentals might even be
August auto sales were unexpectedly strong, led by Ford
Motor Co, Chrysler Group and Nissan Motor Co,
which easily beat analysts' estimates as the industry is seen
reaching volumes not seen since before the recession. Ford
shares edged up 0.1 percent to $17.62 while General Motors
slipped 0.4 percent to $34.66.
At 2:00 p.m. (1800 GMT), the Federal Reserve will release
its Beige Book of economic activity across the nation.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 58.73 points or
0.34 percent, to 17,126.29, the S&P 500 gained 3.44
points or 0.17 percent, to 2,005.72 and the Nasdaq Composite
dropped 4.72 points or 0.1 percent, to 4,593.47.
The benchmark S&P index reached a record intraday high of
2,009.28, while the Dow moved within two points of a new record.
Russia's dollar-denominated RTS index jumped 5.5
percent while the rouble-based MICEX index gained 3.7
percent. The rouble rose 1.7 percent against the dollar
Housing stocks were a weak spot, weighed down by a 2.8
percent decline in Toll Brothers to $34.67 after the
largest U.S. luxury homebuilder posted quarterly results. The
PHLX housing index fell 0.8 percent.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)