S&P 500 gains for an 8th day, boosted by Citigroup

Traders work at the trading post that trades Citigroup stock on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, in this Oct 16, 2012 photo. Citigroup's strong earnings helped the S&P 500 end higher on Monday for an eighth straight day, the longest
Traders work at the trading post that trades Citigroup stock on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, in this Oct 16, 2012 photo. Citigroup's strong earnings helped the S&P 500 end higher on Monday for an eighth straight day, the longest such streak since mid-January, though weak retail sales limited gains in a session with the lowest volume of the year. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Citigroup's strong earnings helped the S&P 500 end higher on Monday for an eighth straight day, the longest such streak since mid-January, though weak retail sales limited gains in a session with the lowest volume of the year.

The Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 finished at record closing highs for the third consecutive session. The Nasdaq scored its highest close since September 2000.

Volume was the lightest of any full trading day this year, with just 4.91 billion shares trading on exchanges, based on the latest available data. This year, daily volume has averaged 6.4 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT.

Shares of Citigroup climbed 2 per cent to US$51.81 (S$65.37) after the third-largest United States bank by assets reported a 26 per cent increase in adjusted quarterly profit. The S&P 500 financial industry sector index gained 0.4 per cent.

The day's economic data was mixed, however, with growth in New York state manufacturing for July accelerating, while June retail sales fell short of expectations. May business inventories barely increased.

Investors are watching for changes in earnings or economic news that could derail the market's rally.

Stocks have climbed this year, except for a late-May sell-off triggered by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's comments, which raised the prospect of trimming the Fed's US$85 billion in monthly stimulus.

The S&P 500 has gained 18 per cent since Dec 31.

"Earnings so far seem to have gotten off to a pretty decent start," said Mr Cam Albright, director of asset allocation for Wilmington Trust Investment Advisors in Wilmington, Delaware. "We think there was a lot of bringing down of expectations prior to reaching earnings season, so that is probably giving the earnings numbers a little bit more cushion."

Leap Wireless International Inc shares more than doubled after AT&T Inc said late on Friday it would buy the company for $1.19 billion. At least two brokerages raised their ratings on Leap's stock. Leap, which was among the Nasdaq's most actively traded stocks, ended at US$16.95 - up 112.41 per cent.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 19.96 points, or 0.13 per cent, to 15,484.26, a record closing high. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 2.31 points, or 0.14 per cent, to finish at 1,682.50, also a record. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 7.41 points, or 0.21 per cent, to end at 3,607.49 - its highest close since September 2000.

Much of the focus this week will be on earnings. Analysts expect S&P 500 companies' second-quarter earnings to have grown 2.8 per cent from a year earlier, with revenue up 1.5 per cent from a year ago, Thomson Reuters data showed.

While earnings growth has slowed in recent quarters, it is expected to pick up the last half of the year. Bank of America-Merrill Lynch raised its year-end target for the S&P 500 to 1,750 from 1,600, citing expected earnings growth.

Most companies also are exceeding analysts' earnings expectations, as they have done in recent quarters. Of the companies that have reported second-quarter results so far, 66.7 per cent are beating earnings estimates. Revenue results, however, are faring worse and are likely to remain a concern for investors, analysts said.

S&P 500 industrial shares rose after airlines expressed confidence over the weekend in the safety of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner following a fire on one of the jets last week. Boeing gained 3.7 per cent to US$105.66 and ranked as the Dow's top performer.

This week's agenda includes comments from Mr Bernanke, who is scheduled to testify about monetary policy before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. He will appear on Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee.

"Given what he has been saying, I don't expect much different," Mr Albright said.

First Solar Inc was the S&P 500's best percentage gainer, rising 5.5 per cent to US$50.27.

Shares of Tiffany & Co jumped 3.6 per cent to US$79.78 in active trading after Stifel Nicolaus upgraded the high-end jeweller's stock to a "buy" from a "hold" and set a price target of US$92.

On the flip side, shares of Ingredion dropped 9.9 per cent to US$62.57, a day after the company warned on earnings.

Utilities outperformed other sectors in the S&P 500, with the sector index up 1.6 per cent. Utility companies, including FirstEnergy Corp and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc, were among the sector's best performers after power grid operators in the US Northeast said they had enough electricity to keep air conditioners running this week through an anticipated heat wave.

Advancers outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange by a ratio of about 19 to 11, while on the Nasdaq, 16 stocks rose for nearly every nine that fell.