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S&P 500, Dow end at record highs after upbeat jobless claims data

(Reuters) - The S&P 500 and the Dow closed at all-time highs on Thursday as worries about rising inflation subsided, while a bigger-than-expected fall in weekly jobless claims and the signing of a massive stimulus bill reinforced expectations of a strong economic recovery.

Mega-cap stocks Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc, Facebook Inc and Amazon.com Inc led the rally, recouping losses from a recent pullback and helping the benchmark S&P 500 surpass its Feb. 12 close of 3,934.83.

The blue-chip Dow scaled a new record for the fourth straight session, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq is now less than 5% below its Feb. 12 peak after slumping over 10% to confirm a correction at the beginning of this week.

President Joe Biden signed his $1.9 trillion stimulus bill into law on Thursday, commemorating the one-year anniversary of a U.S. lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic with a measure designed to bring relief to Americans and boost the economy.

The relief package, on top of the ongoing recovery fueled by the coronavirus vaccination rollout and fading fears of inflation, were driving the market, said Jason Pride, chief investment officer for private wealth at Glenmede in Philadelphia.

While tech led Thursday’s advance, there was still a rotation into value stocks, which have outperformed high-priced growth stocks since November.

“There is a recovery in the valuations of those companies more impacted by the epidemic and a giveback of the valuations of those companies that were more insulated and maybe even perhaps benefited from the pandemic,” Pride said.

“Markets are trading at valuation extremes at this point,” he said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 188.57 points, or 0.58%, to 32,485.59, the S&P 500 gained 40.53 points, or 1.04%, to 3,939.34 and the Nasdaq Composite added 329.84 points, or 2.52%, to 13,398.67.

FILE PHOTO: Dividers are seen inside a trading post on the trading floor as preparations are made for the return to trading at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 13.02 billion shares, compared with the 14.871 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

Fewer than expected Americans filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week as vaccinations allow more segments of the economy to reopen.

“The drop in jobless claims is another win for the week, and a solid sign that we’re making some strides toward pre-pandemic life,” said Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy at E*Trade Financial.

The latest U.S. Treasury auction -- $24 billion of 30-year bonds -- did not reignite inflation concerns unlike a weak seven-year note auction last month that helped send yields higher, spooking markets.

“That story line has dissipated a little bit,” said Pride, pointing to tame consumer prices data for February.

The S&P 500’s industrials and communication services sectors reached all-time highs.

Wall Street’s fear gauge hit a two-week low at 21.45 points before ending at 21.91, a sign of easing fears over inflation.

Coupang, backed by SoftBank Group Corp, ended the day valued at about $85 billion on Thursday after South Korea’s largest e-commerce company and a group of investors raised around $4.6 billion in the biggest U.S. initial public offering this year.

SoftBank racked up a roughly $33 billion paper gain after Coupang’s stock soared 81% to open at $63.50, and later pared gains to close up 40.7% at $49.25.

Bumble Inc jumped 10.8% after it reported a bigger-than-estimated rise in fourth-quarter revenue and said it expected pent-up demand from people who had been avoiding dating in person due to the pandemic.

A so-called “meme” stock AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc gained 4.36% as the cinema chain said the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and the release of major movies would boost sales this year.

Oracle Corp slumped 6.5% as the business software maker’s cloud division reported quarterly revenue that missed analysts’ estimates on increased competition from Amazon.com and Microsoft.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 3.10-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.87-to-1 ratio favored advancers. The S&P 500 posted 74 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 327 new highs and eight new lows.

Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago, Herbert Lash in New York, and Shashank Nayar and Medha Singh in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Lisa Pauline Mattackal; Editing by Maju Samuel and Lisa Shumaker

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