U.S. Stocks Advance Toward Records Amid Fed Stimulus Speculation

U.S. stocks advanced, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a record close, as Federal Reserve officials said economic weakness warrants continued stimulus and investors await data this week on jobs and growth.

Microsoft Corp. climbed 4.2 percent as Nomura Holdings Inc. said the software company may exit its money-losing consumer business under a new chief executive officer. Ralph Lauren Corp. rallied 5.5 percent after the apparel maker boosted the lower end of its sales forecast and increased its dividends. Tesla Motors Inc. tumbled 15 percent as its vehicle sales missed some analysts’ estimates.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.4 percent to 1,770.49 at 4 p.m. in New York, within two points of its all-time closing high. The Dow added 128.66 points, or 0.8 percent, to 15,746.88, surpassing its previous closing record of 15,680.35 on Oct. 29. About 6.1 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, 3 percent above the three-month average.

“The central bank has decided they will reward risk behavior and that’s what we’re going to get,” Bill Mann, chief investment officer at Motley Fool Asset Management in Alexandria, Virginia, said in a phone interview. His firm manages $560 million. “The market will keep hitting their highs until the stimulus reverses itself.”

The S&P 500 has surged 24 percent this year, heading for the best annual performance since 2003, as corporate earnings beat forecasts and the central bank maintained stimulus measures.

Fed Papers

Two separate papers by members of the Fed board yesterday argued the need to maintain a loose monetary policy to support growth in the world’s biggest economy.

William English, head of the Division of Monetary Affairs, supported the Fed’s strategy of maintaining low interest rates while unemployment is above 6.5 percent and wrote that an even lower threshold may be helpful. Another paper by David Wilcox said the weakness of the U.S. economy calls for a “highly accommodative monetary policy.”

“Our initial assessment is that they considerably increase the probability that the FOMC will reduce its 6.5 percent unemployment threshold for the first hike in the federal funds rate,” Jan Hatzius, chief economist of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., wrote yesterday, referring to the studies.

Investors are watching data to gauge the health of the U.S. economy after Fed policy makers said last week they need to see more evidence of sustained improvement before slowing the pace of its $85 billion monthly bond purchases.

Leading Indicators

A report today showed the Conference Board’s index of U.S. leading indicators, a gauge of the outlook for the next three to six months, increased 0.7 percent in September. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a gain of 0.6 percent.

Data later this week may show the U.S. economy slowed in the third quarter and employers hired fewer workers in October.

Commerce Department data tomorrow may show gross domestic product grew at a 2 percent annualized rate after a 2.5 percent pace in the second quarter, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Payrolls rose by 120,000 workers last month after a 148,000 gain in September, while the jobless rate rose to 7.3 percent, Labor Department figures may show on Friday.

Three rounds of bond purchases from the Fed and better-than-expected earnings have helped drive the S&P 500 up more than 160 percent from a bear market low in 2009.

Earnings Reports

Of the 423 S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far, 75 percent have beaten analysts’ profit forecasts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Income for the broad index (SPX) probably increased 4.1 percent in the third quarter, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

“We’re over the period where the market is lifting all boats,” Michael Binger, who helps oversee $410 million as senior portfolio manager for Gradient Investments in Arden Hills, Minnesota, said in a phone interview. “The economy is growing at a mediocre rate. Tapering news is put on hold. At the end of the day, stock prices follow earnings and earnings continue to grow. We have to pay attention to specific stocks.”

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, the gauge of S&P 500 options known as the VIX, fell 4.5 percent to 12.68, extending its decline this year to 30 percent.

Eight out of 10 S&P 500 industry groups gained as consumer-staples and utility companies rose the most, climbing at least 1.1 percent.

Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker conducting its first-ever CEO search, gained 4.2 percent to $38.18 for the biggest increase in the Dow and its highest level since 2000.

Bing, Xbox

Rick Sherlund, a Nomura analyst, increased his share-price forecast to $45 from $40, citing potential changes under a new CEO, including a disposal of Microsoft’s business in consumer products such as the Bing search engine and Xbox game console.

Ralph Lauren advanced 5.5 percent to $180.52. The company said it now expects full-year revenue to grow more than 5 percent, up from an earlier projection of an increase of at least 4 percent. Ralph Lauren raised its quarterly dividend to 45 cents a share from 40 cents.

Ensco Plc (ESV) jumped 4.4 percent to $59.55. The offshore contract drilling company boosted its quarterly dividend by 50 percent to 75 cents a share.

Tesla plunged 15 percent to $151.16 for its biggest slide since January 2012. The company said it delivered about 5,500 Model S vehicles in the third quarter. Brian Johnson, an auto analyst at Barclays Plc, had expected 5,820, while Dan Galves of Deutsche Bank AG estimated the company would ship 5,850 cars.

Abercrombie, Chesapeake

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. slumped 14 percent to $33.13 for the biggest drop in the S&P 500 and its lowest level in almost a year. The retailer’s sales trailed analysts’ estimates as teens restrained spending on clothing.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. dropped 6.8 percent to $26.23. The company’s forecast implies a decline in oil production during the fourth quarter from the previous three months, raising concern over its ability to deliver growth next year, William Featherston, an analyst with UBS AG, wrote in a note to clients.

Twitter Inc., the San Francisco-based short-message Internet service, will probably set the price for its initial public offering tonight and begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange tomorrow. It’s likely to raise more than $1.75 billion in a deal several times oversubscribed, two people with knowledge of the matter said this week.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lu Wang in New York at lwang8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lynn Thomasson at lthomasson@bloomberg.net

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