March 11, 2013 at 4:23 PM ET
Stocks finished near session highs Monday, with the Dow posting another record closing high and the S&P 500 within 1 percent of its 2007 peak, as investors shrugged off earlier worries over disappointing economic data from China and weakness in Europe.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished near session highs to close at a fresh high, led by Boeing and UnitedHealth. The blue-chip index is up more than 10 percent for the year and on track for its biggest quarterly gain since the fourth quarter of 2011.
The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also closed higher. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, ended below 12 for the first time since April 2007.
Most key S&P sectors ended higher, led by financials, while telecoms finished in the red.
"We're in unchartered territory, but the higher this market goes without a pullback, the more investors have to be concerned that underneath the surface: risk begets risk," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist with Prudential Financial. "Last week was impressive and investors want to see the S&P 500 similarly make new highs. But the market's resting right now and it's waiting for further confirmation to move higher."
(Read More: Stocks Poised for a 5% Drop: Strategist)
Apple reversed course to spike higher on heavy volume in midday trading amid unconfirmed rumors that the next iPhone will include a fingerprint sensor and a near-field communications chip for mobile payments. In addition, traders buzzed about a possible special dividend from the tech giant.
(Read More:Why Some Analysts Are Apple Bears)
General Electric chief Jeff Immelt said the conglomerate plans to return $18 billion to investors through dividends and buybacks, adding that dividend growth is a top priority for the company. Meanwhile, Nomura downgraded its rating on GE to "neutral" from "buy."
Citigroup edged higher after RBS upgraded the bank to "buy" from "neutral."
Dell gained after Icahn Enterprises said it had entered into a confidentiality agreement with the computer hardware maker and looked forward to commencing a review of the company.
BlackBerry soared following news the company's highly anticipated BlackBerry Z10 will be sold through AT&T by March 22. The U.S. launch of the company's newest smartphone was delayed due to a longer carrier-testing phase.
Genworth rallied to lead the S&P 500 gainers after a Barron's article over the weekend said the mortgage insurer's stock could almost double in the next year, thanks to gains in mortgage and health-care pricing.
Among earnings, Dick's Sporting Goods tumbled after the sporting goods retailer missed quarterly expectations. The company said lower-than-expected sales of outerwear and cold weather accessories offset some positive trends in areas such as athletic footwear and apparel.
Apparel retailer Urban Outfitters is scheduled to post earnings after the closing bell.
"What's the catalyst for a pullback? Some internal deterioration and or when traders start to lose money buying every dip as the rally gets too extended and narrow," wrote Elliot Spar, market strategist at Stifel Nicolaus.
China's Shanghai Composite declined after data showing industrial production and retail sales in China for the January and February period missed expectations. In addition, inflation rose in February, igniting worries of potential monetary tightening. Meanwhile, Japan's Nikkei hit a new four-and-a-half year high, fueled by weakness in the yen.
(Read More: Why China's Yuan Is No Longer a Big Worry for US)
European shares traded lower, pulling back from four-year highs, dragged by banks on the heels of Italy's credit downgrade from Fitch to BBB-positive last Friday. The downgrade follows a week of political haggling after no party gained sufficient votes in a national election to form a government.
—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)
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