Stocks rise, pushing Dow back near record

Stocks closed up on Wall Street Monday as stock investors largely ignored early concerns about China. The Dow Jones industrial average neared its record closing level. 

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Monday. Stocks have rallied this year on optimism that the U.S. housing market is recovering and signs that companies are hiring more.

Stocks edged higher on Wall Street Monday, pushing the Dow back toward a record, as Wall Street shrugged off early jitters about China.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 25 points to 14,116 as of 3:26 p.m. The index is a fraction of a percent away from its record close of 14,164, reached on Oct. 9, 2007.

The Standard & Poor's 500 rose six points to 1,524. The Nasdaq composite gained five points to 3,178.17.

Stocks reversed morning losses as investors shrugged off concern about new steps introduced by the Chinese government to cool the booming housing market in the world's second-largest economy.

Chinese markets were dragged down by housing stocks, which fell sharply after the country's Cabinet ordered new measures to rein in home prices. China will raise minimum down payments in areas where prices are deemed to be rising too fast and crack down on efforts to evade limits on how many properties each buyer can acquire.

"The U.S. market continues to digest the negative news and hang tough," said Ryan Detrick, a senior strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research.

The stock market has rallied this year on optimism that the U.S. housing market is recovering and signs that companies are hiring more. Strong corporate earnings and continuing economic stimulus from the Federal Reserve have also boosted stockprices.

Despite having already logged strong gains this year, stocksmay still be able to maintain their momentum as investors move money out of bonds, Rob Lutts, chief investment officer at Cabot Money Management, said.

"It's all about where the money is going," Lutts said. "If the money that is sitting on the sideline, or in bonds, is moving into equities that alone is enough to create that shift."

Investors put $2.8 billion into U.S. stock mutual funds in the week ending Feb. 27, according to Lipper. That's the eighth straight week investors have put more money into stocks, the longest streak of inflows in almost two years.

The Dow has risen 7.7 percent so far this year and the S&P 500 is 6.8 percent higher, while the yield on the 10-year Treasury note remains below 2 percent. The yield, which moves inversely to its price, rose 3 basis points to 1.87 percent Monday.

For now, stocks are likely to grind higher as investors who missed the rally at the start of the year buy stocks on any drops in the market, Scott Wren, a senior equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors, said.

"I'd love to see a pullback, because pullbacks are opportunities," Wren said.

Janet Yellen, vice chair of the Federal Reserve, said Monday she does not see risks at the moment from the U.S. central bank's low-interest rate policies. The Fed is buying $85 billion each month in Treasury and mortgage-backed securities to keep long-term interest rates very low.

Investors' enthusiasm is being held in check by the automatic government budget cuts that took effect Friday after President Barack Obama and Congress failed to reach a budget deal. Economists expect the cuts to hurt U.S. economic growth. Both Republicans and Democrats pledged to retroactively undo the cuts, but they have given no indication of how that process would take shape.

European markets were mixed. Crude oil fell 70 cents to $89.98 a barrel, the first time crude has traded under $90 a barrel this year. Energy stocks fell 0.4 percent, making energy the worst-performing industry in the S&P 500. Newfield Exploration dropped 57 cents to $23.80, Leucadia National fell 58 cents to $25.82.

The dollar was little changed against the euro.

Among other stocks making big moves:

Select Comfort, a manufacturer of specialty mattresses, fell $3.29 to $17.23 after the company warned that it will likely fall short of its first-quarter goals as a result of lower-than-expected sales.

— Hess gained $2.32 to $68.86 after the company said it would get out of the retail business as well as energy trading and marketing to focus on exploration and production.

— Yahoo! rose 70 cents to $22.64 after Barclays analysts raised their rating on the stock to "overweight" and increased their price target to $26. The bank says the value of the company's minority stakes in Alibaba Group and Yahoo! Japan are not fully reflected in the current stock price.

Apple fell $9.45 to $421. The stock has now fallen 12 out the last 14 trading days and has lost about 40 percent of its market value since peaking in September last year.

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