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Dow's return nears 10% year-to-date as stocks show no fear of Fed

April 26, 2011 |  6:56 pm

Wall Street must be expecting nothing but soothing words from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke on Wednesday.

Stocks rallied broadly on Tuesday, pushing blue-chip share indexes to their highest levels in nearly three years ahead of the Fed’s policy meeting and Bernanke’s press conference afterward.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 115.49 points, or 0.9%, to 12,595.37, its best close since June 5, 2008.

The Dow now is up 8.8% year to date. Including dividends earned, the index’s return is nearing 10%.

More important, chart-watchers were encouraged as market indexes including the Standard & Poor’s 500 and the Nasdaq composite surpassed their previous 2011 highs reached on Feb. 18 -- just before the market stumbled amid soaring oil prices.

The Dow had topped its Feb. 18 high in early April, but the rest of the market lagged. With the other indexes catching up on Tuesday, the bulls have more ammo to argue that the market rally is off and running again, underpinned by strong first-quarter earnings reports from companies including 3M, Cummins Inc. and Illinois Tool Works.

Sp426 The S&P 500 (charted, at left) rose 0.9% to 1,347.24 on Tuesday, topping the Feb. 18 high of 1,343.01. The Nasdaq composite gained 0.8% to 2,847.54, exceeding its Feb. 18 high of 2,833.95.

The S&P index now is at its highest since June 2008; the Nasdaq index is at its highest since Oct. 2007.

The Fed is expected to maintain its easy-money policy, including short-term interest rates near zero, to bolster the economy. But investors will be looking for more details from Bernanke at his press conference about the possibility of additional help if the economy should falter. The Fed now is scheduled to finish on June 30 its program of buying Treasury bonds to restrain longer-term interest rates.

The stock market has been a prime beneficiary of the Fed’s ultra-loose credit, of course -- and that’s true of smaller stocks in particular.

While the Dow still is 11% below its record close of 14,164 reached on Oct. 9, 2007, indexes of small- and mid-size stocks are at or near all-time highs.

The S&P MidCap 400 index rose 1% to a record 1,004.59 on Tuesday, and is up 10.7% this year.

The Russell 2,000 small-stock index rallied 1% to 853.04, just below the all-time high of 855.77 reached in July 2007. The Russell index is up 8.8% this year.

The bears say stocks are defying gravity, but that argument now is more than two years old.

-- Tom Petruno

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