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S&P 500 index hits new 17-month high, though barely

March 11, 2010 |  3:12 pm

The stock market’s latest rally rolls on: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index on Thursday closed at a new 17-month high, recouping the last of its losses from a mid-January to early-February pullback.

The S&P added 4.63 points, or 0.4%, to 1,150.24, just barely edging past the previous 2010 closing high of 1,150.23 reached Jan. 19. For the bulls, a new high is a new high. But some bears see this market as rigged, driven almost entirely by computerized trading strategies.

Financial stocks led the way Thursday after Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit said the bank was on the path to “sustained profitability.” Citi’s shares jumped 22 cents, or 5.6%, to $4.18, the sixth straight gain. The stock has been climbing amid expectations that the U.S. Treasury was preparing to cash out the 27% stake it got for bailing out the company in 2008.

Continuing to defy legions of sidelined doubters who would rather buy bonds than stocks, Wall Street’s bull market entered its second year this week. The S&P now has rocketed 70% from the 12-year low reached on March 9, 2009, when investor pessimism over the credit crisis and recession reached its peak.

Year to date the S&P is up 3.2%. Thursday’s closing level was the highest since Oct. 2, 2008, when the market was beginning its free fall.

Indexes of small- and mid-size stocks hit new 17-month highs last week, as did the Nasdaq composite.

The index everybody watches -- the Dow Jones industrial average -- has been bringing up the rear: It was up 44.51 points to 10,611.84 on Thursday, but still is below its recent high of 10,725 reached Jan. 19. The Dow is up 1.8% this year.

-- Tom Petruno