US stock market surges to new high

Optimism has abounded on Wall Street in spite of soft economic data, propelling the S&P 500 to a new record high.

The leading US stock index benchmarks have all rallied strongly today, with the Dow Jones and S&P 500 both rising more than 1%. By early afternoon in New York, the Dow was up 1.15% or 185 points at 16,388, while the S&P 500 rose 1.09%, setting a new all-time high of 1858.70 along the way.

These gains, pushing the S&P 500 into positive territory for the year, reflect a significant amount of faith on the part of investors that the US economy is stronger than recent data suggests. Once again today, economic indicators disappointed, with soft readings from Markit’s services PMI and a couple of Federal Reserve surveys.

The flash Markit’s services PMI came in at 52.7 for February, down from January’s reading of 56.7. While still on the right side of the 50-mark that separates growth from contraction, this is the slowest growth in the services sector since the Federal government shutdown of last autumn. This is the latest in a long series of reports that seems to have been dragged lower by February’s frigid weather conditions.

The Chicago Fed’s National Activity Index slipped to -0.39 last month, down from -0.03 in December (originally reported as 0.16), with production the hardest-hit component, dropping to -0.36 from a positive level of 0.06 in the month prior. Similarly, the Dallas Fed’s regional survey shows overall business activity slowing to 0.3 in February from the prior level of 3.8, although the production index, a gauge of manufacturing activity in Texas, advanced to 10.8 from 7.1 as output picked up pace.

The stock market’s rally today suggests the mind-set persists of dismissing disappointing data as the transitory product of bad weather.

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