Stocks closed broadly higher Wednesday, propelling the benchmark S&P 500 ($INX) to close above 1,200 for the first time since September 2008, helped by strong earnings from JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and encouraging readings on inflation, retail sales and business inventories.
The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) rose 103.7 points, or 0.94%, to close at 11,123, while the broader S&P 500 added 13.4 points, or 1.12%, to 1,210.7 The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite ($COMPX) gained 38.9, or 1.12%, to finish at 2,504.9.
Investors kept buying after Tuesday's close when Dow component Intel (INTC) released earnings and an outlook that blew past Wall Street estimates, lifting tech stocks broadly Wednesday. Fellow Dow component JPMorgan Chase, the second-largest U.S. bank by assets after Bank of America (BAC), said its first-quarter earnings eclipsed analysts' expectations by 10 cents a share, which touched off buying frenzy in financial stocks.
A slew of data Wednesday also bolstered investor optimism over the course and pace of the economic recovery. The U.S. Commerce Department's retail and food services sales tally for March rose to $363.2 billion, up 7.6% from March 2009 and 1.6% from this February.
Excluding the automotive segment, total sales were up 8.2% year-over-year, and retail sales specifically were up 6.4%. Auto sales were up 14.1% from a year ago. Sales of cars and gasoline helped push up March's retail sales figures, but there are also clear signs that shoppers have begun to spring for nonessentials such as clothes and housewares.
Separately, the U.S. Commerce Department announced Wednesday that U.S. business inventories rose for the fourth time in five months, climbing 0.5% in February in a reversal of the drawdown prompted by the severe recession. And the Labor Department announced that consumer prices rose just 0.1% in March. The core rate -- which excludes the often-volatile food and energy component -- was unchanged in the month.