By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK - The S&P 500 index ended at an all-time high on Monday as growth-oriented stocks, including energy and technology, lead the way to the index's sixth rise in the past seven sessions.
Stronger-than-expected housing data also boosted the market, as did Italy's formation of a new government, ending months of uncertainty and raising hopes for new policies to promote growth in the euro zone's third-largest economy.
Pressure has grown on the European Central Bank to lower interest rates with the euro zone mired in recession. Money market traders are evenly split on whether the ECB will cut rates at its meeting on Thursday, according to a Reuters poll.
Wall Street followed European stocks higher as Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta urged a focus on growth policies and away from austerity measures in his inaugural speech.
"After the election there was a lot of uncertainty about whether Italy could form a government, so now there is not only a great deal of relief over that, but also expectations for additional monetary policies from the ECB," said Alec Young, global equity strategist at S&P Equity Research in New York.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 106.20 points, or 0.72 percent, at 14,818.75. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 11.37 points, or 0.72 percent, at 1,593.61. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 27.76 points, or 0.85 percent, at 3,307.02.
The U.S. Federal Reserve will also meet this week for a two-day session beginning on Tuesday. The Fed is expected to maintain its stimulus policy. Data on Monday showing muted inflation gave the Fed room for accommodative measures.
Also lifting markets was Apple Inc (AAPL), which jumped 3.1 percent to $430.12 after taking initial steps for what would be its first debt sale. Technology stocks rose 1.7 percent, making the sector the best-performing on Monday.
Among energy shares, Chevron Corp (CVX) rose 1.1 percent to $121.32.
A report showed contracts to buy previously owned homes rose last month to their highest level since April 2010, showing underlying strength in the housing market recovery, even though the pace of sales growth has cooled in recent months.
The S&P 500 closed just barely above its previous record hit earlier this month of 1,593.37.
"The market's trend continues to be higher, but it is still attractive at these valuations," said Young, who has a 12-month target of 1,670 for the S&P.
About 71 percent of New York Stock Exchange-listed companies closed higher while 65 percent of companies traded on the Nasdaq ended in positive territory.
Volume was light, with about 5.10 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.36 billion shares.
Moody's Corp (MCO) was the S&P 500's top percentage gainer, jumping 8.3 percent to $59.69 after the company settled a lawsuit alleging that it had misled investors about the safety of risky debt vehicles it had rated.
McGraw-Hill Cos (MHP), whose Standard & Poor's unit said it settled similar suits, rose 2.8 percent to $53.45.
Roper Industries Inc (ROP) fell 3.8 percent to $118.68 after reporting first-quarter revenue that missed expectations, though it raised its full-year profit outlook.
Of the 274 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings to date for current season, 69 percent have beat analysts' expectations and 43.2 percent have reported revenue above expectations.
The second half of the earnings season may not be as strong as the first one, data showed.
By Ryan Vlastelica