March 13, 2013 at 4:09 PM ET
Stocks eked out a small gain in tight trading Wednesday, with the Dow logging its first ninth-consecutive winning streak since November 1996 and the S&P 500 within striking distance of its all-time closing high.
"It's the ongoing momentum in the market and every day you get a bit of a grind higher," said Joe Saluzzi, co-manager of trading at Themis Trading. "And we've seen this kind of market before—it's the QE-infused rally. It's tough to fight it and no one wants to fight it anymore."
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The Dow Jones Industrial Average squeezed out a gain of 5.22 points to end at 14,455.28, logging yet another all-time closing high and its first nine-day rally since 1996. The blue-chip index traded in a tight 60-point range all day. IBM led the gainers, while Alcoa dragged.
The blue-chip index is currently on pace for its biggest point gain ever in one quarter and is close to seeing its first double-digit quarter percentage gain since 1998.
The S&P 500 eked out a gain of 2.04 points to finish at 1554.52, crawling closer to its all-time closing peak. The Nasdaq added 2.80 points to close at 3,245.12.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near 12.
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Among key S&P sectors, industrials led the best performers, while telecoms lagged.
"Since the beginning of February, we've been in a sweet spot of having a strong equity, dollar and oil market, which is a winning combination from an economic standpoint," said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at Schwab Center for Financial Research. "In addition, the housing market recovery has been critical and has an enormous psychological effect on consumers."
Frederick said he expects the rally to continue and the S&P 500 will likely see new highs in the near-term.
"Small pullbacks like today are buying opportunities," said Frederick. "We might see a correction after the S&P 500 touches the new high, but the rally will resume because looking out at the rest of the year, things continue to look positive."
Meanwhile, widely-followed hedge fund manager David Tepper of Appaloosa Management remains bullish on the U.S. stock market, a source familiar with his thinking told CNBC, and predicts the S&P could soar 20 percent or more through the course of 2013. Tepper became known several years ago for embracing the "Bernanke put" theory that the Fed's quantitative easing would pave the way for a bull run.
Tepper himself was reluctant to comment on the outlook, telling CNBC he is "still constructive on the market."
Meanwhile, Facebook declined amid new Federal Trade Commission's guidelines for social media advertisements.
Silver Springs Networks spiked more than 20 percent in its market debut on the NYSE after the smart grid products maker priced its IPO at $17 a share.
Among earnings, Express tumbled after the apparel retailer provided a full-year outlook that widely missed forecasts.
Boeing edged higher after the Federal Aviation Administration approved the aircraft manufacturer's plan for the redesigned Dreamliner 787 battery system.
Apple was flat following a report that showed shipments of tablets running Google's Android will top the iPad this year for the first time, according to research house International Data. Apple has plunged nearly 40 percent from its all time high of $705 a share back in September.
Walgreen jumped after UBS raised its rating on the drugstore chain to "buy" from "neutral" and lifted its price target to $48 from $41.
Democrats are expected to unveil a U.S. budget blueprint that attempts to slice federal deficits by $1.85 trillion over 10 years through an equal mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the rich, according to Reuters.
European shares declined after a weak Italian debt auction. Worries over the euro zone have resurfaced over the last few weeks amid jitters over Italy's credit rating downgrade in the wake of the nation's inconclusive election results.
On the economic front, retail sales jumped 1.1 percent in February, according to the Commerce Department, after a revised 0.2 percent gain in January. Economists had expected to rise 0.5 percent, according to a Reuters survey.
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Meanwhile, import prices gained 1.1 percent in February, according to the Labor Department, due to the increase in fuel prices. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected a reading of 0.5 percent. And export prices climbed,fueled by higher corn and soybean prices, in addition to higher costs for industrial goods and materials, capital goods and autos.
And business inventories climbed 1 percent in January, the biggest gain in more than 18 months, suggesting restocking of warehouses will boost economic growth this quarter, according to the Commerce Department. Economists surveyed by Reuters expected a gain of 0.4 percent.
Weekly mortgage applications declined last week as interest rates spiked, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
The Treasury auctioned $21 billion in 10-year notes at a high yield of 2.029 percent. The bid-to-cover ratio, an indicator of demand, was 3.19.
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