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US stocks climb to record levels

NEW YORK — U.S. stocks rose, with benchmark indexes closing at all-time highs, amid optimism the economy is showing sufficient strength to weather a slowdown overseas.

Phone companies led gains, while technology stocks rose as Hewlett-Packard advanced to the highest level since May 2011 even after missing analyst earnings estimates. Energy producers decreased as Seadrill suspended dividends amid the lowest oil prices in more than four years.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.3 percent to 2,072.83, extending gains in the final 15 minutes of trading. The Dow Jones industrial average added 12.81 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,827.75. Both gauges ended at records. The Nasdaq 100 index climbed 0.7 percent to extend a more than 14-year high. About 4.9 billion listed shares changed hands in the U.S., 26 percent lower than the three-month daily average. U.S. markets will be closed Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Economic numbers in general have been good, and that optimism is following through,” Richard Sichel, chief investment officer at Philadelphia Trust, which oversees $2 billion, said in a phone interview. “It could be a good retail season, and low gas prices are making a difference.”

Consumer confidence climbed to a more than seven-year high in November as Americans’ views of their financial well-being improved heading into the holiday shopping season. A separate report showed consumer spending climbed in October at the same pace as incomes, showing households are staying within their means as the holiday-shopping season begins.

Orders for U.S. business equipment such as machinery and electrical gear unexpectedly declined in October. Other data showed jobless claims increased by 21,000 to 313,000 in the week ended Nov. 22, the highest since early September, from 292,000 in the prior period. New homes in the U.S. sold at a slower pace than forecast last month.

A report Tuesday showed U.S. gross domestic product expanded at a 3.9 percent annualized rate in the third quarter, more than initially estimated.

The S&P 500 has advanced each December for the past six years. It is up 11 percent from its six-month low in October, as data signaled the U.S. economy is improving and central banks in Europe, Japan and China added more stimulus measures.

The rally in American equities has pushed stock valuations to near the highest levels since 2009. The S&P 500 trades at 17.3 times the projected earnings of its members, up from a multiple as low as 15.5 last month. Profit for S&P 500 companies may rise 7.6 percent this year, estimates compiled by Bloomberg show.

Calm has returned to equity markets. The Chicago Board Options Exchange volatility index, the gauge of options prices known as the VIX, has dropped 14 percent in the past five days to a two-month low. The benchmark gauge of price swings surged to a more than two-year high on Oct. 15.

Eight out of 10 main industries in the S&P 500 increased Wednesday, with phone and technology companies posting the largest gains. Energy shares slumped the most, dropping 1.1 percent ahead of Thursday’s OPEC meeting.

Chipmakers surged, with Analog Devices Inc. climbing 5.5 percent after profit and sales for the fourth quarter exceeded projections. The company’s adjusted gross margin, a measure of profitability, was also wider than analysts had predicted.

Phone companies in the benchmark gauge gained the most since July as CenturyLink rose 2.2 percent to lead gains. AT&T rose for a second straight day after falling 3.3 percent since Nov. 14.

Technology companies in the S&P 500 climbed 0.9 percent. Hewlett-Packard added 4.1 percent even after the computer maker reported fourth-quarter sales that missed estimates. The company’s margins may benefit from a restructuring plan that would spin off its personal-computer and printer operations into a stand-alone entity, Brian Alexander, an analyst for Raymond James, wrote in a client note Wednesday.

Mylan surged more than 4 percent. A Jefferies Group analyst said the company is viewed as the most likely takeover target for Pfizer.

Deere pared its drop to 0.9 percent after losing as much as 3.9 percent. The world’s largest maker of farm equipment forecast 2015 profit that trailed estimates as farmers buy fewer high-horsepower tractors and combines after crop prices fell. Caterpillar slumped 0.4 percent.

Seadrill fell 23 percent, the most in six years, after the offshore driller controlled by billionaire John Fredriksen suspended dividends as the slump in oil prices weakens demand for rigs.

Energy companies declined the most out of the 10 main S&P 500 industries as Diamond Offshore Drilling, Transocean and Noble declined more than 5 percent. Crude oil dropped 0.5 percent to $73.69 a barrel in New York, the lowest since September 2010.

With assistance from Bloomberg’s Sofia Horta e Costa in London.

© 2014, Bloomberg News

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