Traders erupted into boisterous cheers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Thursday as the market soared and the Dow Jones industrials catapulted to a new record close, an achievement that took on particular significance considering Wall Street's position just a year ago.
In July 2006, the benchmark index struggled to gain traction against higher oil prices and signs of a slowing economy — and was still some 300 points away from 11,000. Since then, the index has risen 29 percent to Thursday's record close of 13,861.33.
The Dow's 283-point spike Thursday has many on Wall Street talking about its next feat: sweeping past the 14,000 mark sooner than expected. The Standard & Poor's 500 index, meanwhile, hit a new record of 1,547.70, while broader indexes like the Russell 5000 also reached new heights.
"The move in the markets is broad based and powerful," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist with Spencer Clarke LLC. "While risk levels still remain above average, I would say that the benefit of the doubt belongs with the bulls for now."
The same obstacles facing stocks a year ago still linger, he said. Meanwhile, Wall Street faces newer issues like a squeeze in the subprime mortgage industry and lackluster corporate profits.
The turning point for many investors was the Federal Reserve's decision to stop raising rates in August 2006 after 17 straight hikes. Almost overnight, everyone from individual investors to businesses were relieved that costs of borrowing money wouldn't increase.
That helped foster the biggest buyout boom in history, with more than $1 trillion worth of deals done in 2006. And this year — driven by a surge in private equity-led deals — seems poised to break that record.
"The market has really been on a steady upward trend since the Fed stopped raising rates, and it has been a pretty healthy and consistent rally," said Jennifer Ellison, a portfolio manager with wealth management firm Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough. "It was putting interest rates on hold that really sparked all this merger mania, and that's what has driven all of this."
She also said the few breathers the market has taken throughout the past year were also a factor in reaching this latest peak. Market hiccups, such as the one triggered by a plunge in Chinese stocks in February, also helped reset the markets and make stocks look attractive.
The market's climb — and its retreats — have brought a return of volatility to the markets, including Thursday's 283-point gain for the Dow. In many cases, it helps bring new money off the sidelines — and that could help feed this year's bull market.
"These kind of swings, especially when you have the Dow at 13,000 or 14,000, is very healthy," Ellison said.