* S&P ends less than 1.5 points away from record closing
* Demand for long-lasting U.S. goods soared in February
* January home prices up - best yearly increase since 2006
* Dow up 0.8 pct, S&P 500 up 0.8 pct, Nasdaq up 0.5 pct
By Angela Moon
NEW YORK, March 26 U.S. stocks gained on
Tuesday, pushing the S&P 500 within striking distance of its
all-time closing high, as strong data on home prices and
manufacturing fed optimism about the economy, although the
improvements were seen as slow.
The S&P 500 made yet another attempt at a record, but failed
to break above the all-time closing high for the second day this
At Tuesday's close, the S&P 500 was only 1.38 points below
its lifetime closing high. On Monday, the benchmark index traded
just a quarter point below its record closing high, which
stands at 1,565.15 set on Oct. 9, 2007, and then retreated as
investors sold some equities to cash in on gains in the wake of
the news out of Europe.
Data showed U.S. single-family home prices rose in January
at the fastest pace in more than six years, while long-lasting
U.S. manufactured goods, also known as durable goods orders,
shot up in February.
"I think the batch of data was enough to convince investors
that the U.S. economy is on the right track," said Andrew
Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co, in
"At this point, it's hard to argue that anything will derail
the U.S. economy, and that is boosting investors' confidence as
they continue to load up on equities."
Still, investors may look for reasons to take profits, with
the S&P 500 up nearly 10 percent so far this year. The rally has
lifted the benchmark index near its all-time closing high, which
it nearly reached on Monday.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 111.90 points,
or 0.77 percent, to end at 14,559.65. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index gained 12.08 points, or 0.78 percent, to finish at
1,563.77. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 17.18
points, or 0.53 percent, to close at 3,252.48.
The semiconductor index climbed 0.9 percent, buoyed
by Intel Corp shares, up 2.9 percent at $21.77.
The CBOE Volatility Index or VIX, Wall Street's
favorite barometer of investor anxiety, fell 7.1 percent to
close at 12.77.
In a sign that growth continues to be slow, sales of new
U.S. single-family homes fell more than expected in February,
and the latest reading on consumer confidence was weaker than
Shares of homebuilding stocks were mixed. Lennar Corp
stock rose 0.4 percent to $41.72, but Hovnanian
Enterprises shares slid 3.1 percent to $5.87.
But investors remained concerned about the negative
implications of a financial rescue plan for Cyprus. They worried
that it would serve as a template for other euro-zone economies
Banks in Cyprus will remain closed until Thursday and will
then be subject to capital controls to prevent a run on
deposits. President Nicos Anastasiades said late on Monday that
a 10-billion-euro ($13 billion) rescue plan approved over the
weekend was "painful" but essential to avoid economic meltdown.
"If there's a run on deposits, there may be a selloff (in
U.S. stocks), but that could pose an excellent entry point to
get into the market and take advantage of this rally," said Todd
Schoenberger, managing partner at LandColt Capital, in New York.
In U.S. corporate news, Monsanto Co and DuPont Co
settled a legal battle over rights to technology for
genetically modified seeds. The companies agreed to drop
antitrust and patent lawsuits against each other in U.S. federal
court. Monsanto shares rose 4.4 percent to $103.79. DuPont, a
Dow component, shed 0.3 percent to $48.97.
Netflix Inc was the S&P 500's top percentage
gainer, jumping 5.4 percent to $190.61 after Pacific Crest
raised its price target on the stock to $225 from $160, citing
prospects for international subscriber growth.
Michael Dell's $24.4 billion buyout bid for Dell Inc
could be derailed after billionaire Carl Icahn opened
the door to an alliance with Blackstone Group LP to take
control of the computer maker from its founder. Dell dipped 0.1
percent to $14.50.
In Tuesday's session, volume was lighter than usual with
some market participants absent for the observance of the Jewish
holiday of Passover.
Volume was roughly 5.2 billion shares traded on the New York
Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the
2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.
Advancers outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock
Exchange by a ratio of about 7 to 3. On the Nasdaq, seven stocks
rose for every five that fell.