April 2, 2013 at 4:02 PM ET
Stocks traded in positive territory Tuesday, with the Dow hitting a new intraday record and the S&P 500 within striking distance of its all-time high, boosted by the health care sector.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a fresh intraday high of 14,684.49, propelled by UnitedHealth and Home Depot. Hewlett-Packard led the blue-chip laggards.
The Dow and S&P have zigzagged between gains and losses for the ninth trading session. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded slid below 13.
Among key S&P sectors, health careand consumer staples rallied, while materialslagged.
(Read More: Why S&P Rally Has Another 100 Points to Go: Chartist)
"There's not a heavy volume built in here and it's more of this psychology evolving about America – that it's probably where you want to leave your money," said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS Financial Services. "Money's drifting in...a trickle here and a trickle there."
April has traditionally been the best month of the year for equities, which have posted an average monthly gain of 2.7 percent in the last 20 years. Also, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hasn't logged a decline in April since 2005.
(Read More: After April Showers, Market Could Bounce Back)
Meanwhile, Atlanta Fed president Dennis Lockhart said the central bank may be able to trim its bond-buying plan before year-end if economic growth continues to pick up and employment further improves. Lockhart said he expects the economy to grow slightly over 2 percent this year, but did warn that short-term budget cuts from Washington is a risk to near-term economic performance.
Medicare-focused insurance companies such as Humana and United Health soared after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a final estimated payment growth rate of 3.3 percent for insurers. In February, the government proposed a payment reduction of more than 2 percent.
Nasdaq OMX plunged after the stock exchange announced a deal to acquire eSpeed for trading U.S. Treasurys in the secondary market from BCG Partnersin a deal worth $1.23 billion. The move prompted Moody's Investors Service to place Nasdaq's ratings under review for possible downgrade. Meanwhile, BCG surged more than 40 percent.
Ford climbed after the U.S. automaker posted March sales that gained 5.7 percent, topping estimates for 3.8 percent. Meanwhile, General Motors edged lower after the firm posted sales that rose 6.4 percent, missing expectations for 8.8 percent. Toyota and other automakers will also report sales throughout the day.
Among techs, Hewlett-Packard tumbled to lead the Dow laggards after Goldman Sachs has cut its rating on the tech company to "sell" from "neutral," saying sentiment about the company has moved ahead of reality.
Apple turned lower in choppy trading. Earlier, Goldman Sachs removed the iPhone maker from its "conviction buy" list. Goldman said the most recent product cycle hasn't provided the boost for Apple that it had expected, but still maintained its "buy" rating on the company.
Qualcomm rose after Raymond James upgraded the semiconductor company to "strong buy" from "outperform." And Stifel Nicolaus downgraded Texas Instruments to "hold" from "buy," citing a near-term slowdown in orders for the chipmaker.
Meanwhile, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch downgraded Goldman Sachs to "neutral" from "buy" on a valuation basis.
On the economic front, factory orders climbed 3 percent thanks to the aircraft industry, according to the Commerce Department, edging past expectations from a Reuters survey for a gain of 2.9 percent. Orders excluding transportation equipment increased just 0.3 percent.
In Europe, Markit's euro zone manufacturing PMI index for March came in at 46.8, indicating an ongoing decline in the single currency zone. However, the reading topped an earlier Reuters estimate of 46.6 and European shares rallied as investors were relieved troubles in Cyprus appeared not to have impacted the economy significantly.
"It now looks odds-on that the euro zone suffered further GDP contraction in the first quarter of 2013, likely around 0.3 percent quarter-on-quarter, while the increased drop in orders and declining back logs of work does not bode at all well for second quarter prospects," Howard Archer, an economist at IHS Global Insight, said in a research note.
Meanwhile, Cypriot Finance Minister Michael Sarris resigned after wrapping talks with foreign lenders on a bailout that forced the island nation to impose unprecedented losses on bank depositors in return for aid.
(Read More: Why the Cyprus Crisis Isn't Over Yet: El-Erian)
—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter:@JeeYeonParkCNBC)
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