Adam Shell and Ray Goldbacher, USA TODAY
The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index finally caught up with other major stock indexes, setting a new closing high on the final trading day of the first quarter.
U.S. financial markets are closed for Good Friday.
The broad measure of the U.S. stock market passed its previous closing high of 1,565.15 early Thursday to become the latest brand-name U.S. stock index to crack a record since the bull market began in March 2009.
Preliminary figures showed the S&P finished at 1,569.19, up 6.34 points or 0.41%. The Dow Jones industrial average also set a new closing high of 14,578.54, up 52.38 or 0.36%; the Nasdaq composite index ended at 3,267.52, up 11.00 or 0.34%.
The benchmark S&P index, widely owned by investors via index mutual funds, broke through its previous closing high set Oct, 9, 2007. The new mark erases all of the nearly 57% the index lost during the 2007-2009 bear market.
The S&P 500 stock index started the day 2.30 points away from its all-time high. It got within 0.06 points in early trading before backing down -- a maddening pattern that started two days ago.
The final breakthrough is significant, as it confirms the record-breaking price action of other closely watched indexes.
It joins a host of other U.S. stock indexes at new highs, such as the blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average, the small-company-dominated Russell 2000, and the Wilshire 5000, a broad index of roughly 3,700 names, including big, mid-size and small stocks.
For the year, the Dow is up 11.3%, the S&P is up 10%, and the Nasdaq composite index is up 8.2%.
"The bull market is four years old, yet it remains strong," says Ed Yardeni, chief investment strategist at Yardeni Research, as economic reports continue to show recoveries in jobs, housing and manufacturing. And near-term, concerns about the federal budget have been kicked down the road.
Others on Wall Street, however, warn of a near-term pullback.
"We are at a point short-term where you can flip a coin" as to whether stocks will keep going higher or give back some of their gains, says Leo Kelly, managing director an partner at HighTower's Kelly Wealth Management.
While Kelly says his firm has taken profits on stock-related investments that have enjoyed a nice run, he says stocks still make the most sense long term. "Stocks ... are one of the investment vehicles that are going to make a decent rate of return. You won't be able to make a return on bonds" with prices already near record highs and yields at record lows.
The breakout came despite the banking crisis in Cyprus. As part of Cyprus' deal with the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Commission depositors with more than 100,000 euros (about $130,000) in the country's two largest banks are being forced to take losses.
Authorities have been putting measures in place to prevent a rush of euros out of the country's banks. Cash withdrawals will be limited to 300 euros ($383) per person each day, and no checks will be cashed.
Evan Lucas of IG Markets in Melbourne said the deal has sparked fears it may be repeated in other European nations that faced similar circumstances. In an e-mail commentary, he said investors saw the deal "as a monster in the shadows for banks in Portugal, Spain and Italy" since it requires depositors - not the public or its tax contributions - to take the pain.
In Asia on Thursday, Japan's Nikkei 225 index tumbled 1.26% to 12,335.96 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost 0.91% to 22,260.62.
Wall Street stocks closed mostly lower Wednesday on Europe worries. The Dow dropped 0.2% to close at 14,526.16. The S&P 500 fell less than 0.1% to 1,562.85. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.1% to 3,256.52.
Ongoing political stalemate in Italy is another cause concern for markets on Thursday. Italy is the third-largest economy of the 17 countries that use the euro and despite a recent election no political party has yet been able to form a new government. The FTSE MIB index rose 0.54% to 15,435 on Thursday.
Benchmark oil for May delivery was up 59 cents to $97.17 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 24 cents to close at a five-week high of $96.68 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.
Contributing: Associated Press