Stocks moved slightly higher on Wednesday as investors attempted to extend the rally that has taken the Dow to all-time highs, buoyed by surprisingly strong retail sales that suggested the economy has traction.
Moves have been muted in recent days as investors consolidate positions after a strong run-up in the first three months of the year. Still, weakness in stocks has been met with buying, which helped propel the Dow on Tuesday to a new record and its eighth day of gains in a row.
That appeared to be the case again on Wednesday as indexes recovered from initial weakness by the early afternoon. If the Dow finishes higher, it will be the longest consecutive run since November 1996.
The broader S&P 500 is within striking distance of its all-time closing high of 1,565.15 and about 1 percent away from all-time intraday high of 1,576.09 - both set in 2007.
"I think we will soon see the S&P at all-time high levels. I don't think the market has topped yet, and there is still strength to move the market higher," said Ari Wald, technical strategist at C&Co/PrinceRidge in New York.
"Will we see a correction of 10 percent or so soon? Not imminently. We have not seen a divergence of behavior yet where participants become more selective on which stocks to buy."
Signs of strength in the economy and the Federal Reserve's easy monetary policy have helped U.S. equities accelerate their advance. The blue-chip Dow is up more than 10 percent for the year and the benchmark S&P 500 index has gained 9 percent.
Wednesday's retail sales report reinforced the view that the U.S. economy has momentum, even with the obstacles the recovery is facing. Sales increased 1.1 percent in February, the largest increase since September.
Investors had been looking for signs of any impact on spending from stubbornly high unemployment and a higher payroll tax that went into effect at the start of the year.
The Morgan Stanley retail index <.MVR> gained 0.8 percent.
Coach shares rose 1.5 percent to $49.56 after Citigroup raised its rating on the luxury leather goods company's stock to "buy" from "neutral." Earlier, the stock had risen as high as $50.09 - up 2.6 percent from Tuesday's close.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 10.14 points, or 0.07 percent, at 14,460.20. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was up 2.93 points, or 0.19 percent, at 1,555.41. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 6.64 points, or 0.20 percent, at 3,248.96.
Walgreen jumped 4.5 percent to $42.88 after UBS raised its rating to a "buy" from "neutral", and lifted its price target to $48 from $41 on the stock of the largest U.S. drugstore chain.
But Express Inc shares slid 7.4 percent to $17.46 after the apparel retailer posted fourth-quarter earnings and said it was off to a slow start in the first quarter. The chain caters to 20- to 30-year-olds.
Spectrum Pharmaceuticals shares lost 37 percent to $7.83 after the biotechnology company forecast full-year sales well below analysts' estimates.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)