US cheer sees S&P hit a two-year high

US stocks tacked on further gains to push the S&P 500 to a two-year high yesterday, continuing a steady upward march investors believe will continue in 2011.

Volume was light, as is expected through the rest of 2010. Investors stayed with sectors that have led a sharp December rally, including financials, energy and materials stocks. The S&P 500 is up 5.7 per cent for the month and 11.8 per cent for the year.

“We have seen this year-end rally refuse to give up any ground,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

The combination of improving economic data, additional stimulus from the Federal Reserve and the extension of tax cuts was keeping equities in demand, Hellwig said.

The financial sector, which has lagged the broader market, was up 0.4 per cent as some investors bet the sector could be among the leaders next year after a strong December.

However, American Express tumbled 3.4 per cent to $42.50 after Stifel Nicolaus downgraded the stock to “hold” from “buy.”

Boeing also kept gains in check. The stock was down 2.7 per cent to $63.27 after the Seattle Times newspaper said a delivery delay could be announced for the plane maker’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

The Dow Jones industrial average dipped 13.78 points, or 0.12 per cent, to 11,478.13. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index added 3.17 points, or 0.25 per cent, to 1,247.08. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 6.59 points, or 0.25 per cent, to 2,649.56.

Energy shares led the way up as the price of oil rose nearly one per cent in choppy trading. Chevron added 0.4 per cent to $88.88.

Amazon.com helped boost the Nasdaq on optimism the company will benefit from improved holiday spending. According to research firm comScore, US online sales are up 12 per cent to $27.5bn so far this season compared with a year ago.

Shares of Amazon gained 3.2 percent to $183.29.