S&P 500 moves above its record high, keeps going

NEW YORK (AP) - There goes another stock market record. The Standard & Poor's 500 crossed into record territory on Thursday morning, beating the closing high it set in pre-financial crisis days. Three weeks earlier, the Dow Jones Industrial Average beat its own 2007 record.

The S&P 500, a barometer that investors use to gauge how the market is performing, edged above the Oct 9, 2007, record close of 1,565 about an hour into trading. At mid-day, it was still holding on to the record, trading at 1,567. That was up four points from the day before, a small increase but notable for the milestone it obliterated.

Investors will be waiting until the end of trading to see if the index can hold on to the record. Their reactions were more guarded than celebratory. Even as the S&P touched new milestones, investors noted that the US economy's footing is still uncertain, and the European debt crisis still far from resolved. Some also are concerned that the gains are being artificially fuelled by the Federal Reserve's easy money policy.

For most of this year, the stock market has zoomed ahead. A mixed performance over the last two weeks, thanks to the bailout of cash-strapped Cyprus, has been more the exception than the rule. Thursday marks the end of first-quarter trading, as markets will be closed for the Good Friday holiday. The Dow is up 11 per cent for the three-month period, the best performance in more than a year. Last year, it lost ground in two quarters and was up 4 per cent and 8 per cent in the other two.

On Thursday, though, news about the US economy and the European debt crisis was far from decisive. For every sign that things were improving, another said it was not.

The government reported that the US economy grew faster than first estimated in the fourth quarter. But the growth, an annual rate of 0.4 per cent, was still anaemic. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped for the second straight week. On a longer time frame, though, jobless claims have been declining since November.

Investors are also uncertain of what to make of the continuing debt crisis in Europe. Portugal reported that its budget deficit widened. In Cyprus, banks reopened for the first time in nearly two weeks, after closing because the government was worried that depositors would make panicked withdrawals. The country reached a deal late on Sunday for bailout loans from other European countries.

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