U.S. stocks at new record, earnings key for more gains

Mon Jul 11, 2016 5:14pm EDT
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By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite the worst start to the year in history for U.S. stocks, the benchmark S&P 500 .SPX index rallied to record highs on Monday, surpassing previous peaks set in May 2015 and confirming the rally that started on March 10, 2009 as the second-longest bull market in the index's history.

The new record could point the way to an improved second half, if corporate earnings improve, analysts said.

The index closed at a record 2,137.16 on Monday. During the session, it rose as high as 2,143.16, surpassing the May 20, 2015 intraday high of 2,134.72.

To the surprise of many, the latest all-time high has come more than a year after U.S. stock prices peaked and after the market has withstood several consecutive quarters of contracting U.S. corporate earnings and global market volatility.

Declining earnings, stagnant overseas economic growth, a plunge in oil prices, negative interest rates in some countries, the threat of interest rate increases from the U.S. Federal Reserve and a recent spate of panic selling following Britain's vote to withdraw from the European Union have all undermined the bull market in the past year.

Investors opened 2016 with concerns about Chinese economic weakness, a free fall in oil prices and fears of global recession.

By early February, the S&P 500 index was down 15 percent from its highs, and traders were talking about the possibility of a bear market, traditionally defined as a 20 percent fall from their highs.

U.S. stock prices fell to 3-1/2 month lows on June 27, as the surprise vote by United Kingdom voters to withdraw from the European Union, or Brexit, brought about another wave of uncertainty for investors, before the recent rally of nearly 7.0 percent.   Continued...

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) shortly after the opening bell in New York, U.S., July 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson