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U.S. stock market pushes toward milestones

Dow approaches 17,000 mark; S&P rises 6 percent this year
By STEVE ROTHWELL, Associated Press Published: June 21, 2014
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— The U.S. stock market is back to setting records.

After treading water for most of March and April, stocks are nudging deeper into record territory and are closing in on milestones with lots of zeros attached to them. The Dow Jones industrial average is within 53 points of 17,000 while the Standard & Poor’s 500 is just shy of 2,000 after rising 6 percent this year.

A harsh winter in the U.S. that hobbled growth made investors cautious. There were also worries about the conflict in Ukraine and slowing growth in China, the world’s second-biggest economy.

But now the economy appears to be on track again, and investors are rediscovering their appetite for stocks.

While 17,000 would be the first 1,000-point marker crested this year, the Dow had two in 2013. It closed above 15,000 for the first time on May 7, then above 16,000 on Nov. 21, during a year when the blue-chip index rocketed 27 percent.

That double milestone was a long time coming, though. The Dow had finished above 14,000 six years earlier, in July 2007.

In 2014, here are some of the factors driving stocks toward new milestones:

The economy

Recent good news on manufacturing and hiring has boosted confidence in the economy.

Manufacturing is expanding at a healthy pace, and the service industry continues to grow, according to surveys released by the Institute for Supply Management earlier this month.

U.S. employers added 217,000 jobs to their payrolls in May, the fourth consecutive month of solid job gains. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has also dropped close to the levels seen before the recession began in December 2007.

More jobs should put more money into consumers’ pockets. That leads to greater demand and greater investment by companies, says Brad Sorensen, director of market and sector research for Charles Schwab.

“It’s in the early stages, but we’re starting to finally see a snowball effect where everything builds on itself,” Sorensen says.

Corporate profits are also rising. Earnings reports start to come in next month, and investors expect that second-quarter profits at U.S. companies will be up 5.4 percent from a year ago, according to FactSet.

More mergers

The market for mergers and acquisitions is heating up. Although the number of corporate deals is marginally lower than it was at this point last year, the transactions getting done are bigger.

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