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Wall Street closes at record highs on stimulus hopes, vaccine optimism

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Wall Street reached all-time closing highs on Monday as investor optimism was stoked by prospects of a speedier economic recovery from the global health crisis, driven by increased stimulus and an accelerated vaccine rollout.

All three major U.S. stock indexes gained ground, with the S&P 500 and the Dow posting their sixth consecutive gains, their longest winning streak since August. Small-caps, set to benefit most from the economic rebound, outperformed their larger peers.

“Investors are starting to play the economy opening up and the vaccine starting to work,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago. “And maybe they can go to a baseball game this summer.”

Still, the extended rally provides some cause for concern.

“Stocks have been over-valued for much of the past year,” Nolte added. “And the things we’re seeing now, with GameStop and Bitcoin, those are signs of speculation, not investing.”

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Oil prices rose to their highest in over a year due to supply cuts and hopes for a stimulus-driven demand rebound, helping energy stocks jump 4.2 per cent.

Read more: Bitcoin soars to new record after Tesla’s US$1.5B investment

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said if Congress approves the president’s US$1.9 trillion fiscal aid package, the United States could return to full employment next year.

That package came closer to passage on Friday when lawmakers approved a budget outline that would enable Democrats to muscle it through Congress without Republican support.

Vaccine deployment, meanwhile, pushes ahead in United States, with at least 32,780,860 doses administered so far, and new infections trending lower, on average.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 237.52 points, or 0.76 per cent, to 31,385.76, the S&P 500 gained 28.76 points, or 0.74 per cent, to 3,915.59 and the Nasdaq Composite added 131.35 points, or 0.95 per cent, to 13,987.64.

Read more: GameStop frenzy explained: How small investors on Reddit took on Wall Street

Ten of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500 ended the session in positive territory, with energy stocks enjoying the largest percentage gain. Utilities were the sole losers.

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The fourth-quarter reporting season has passed the halfway mark, with 294 of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported. Of those, 83 per cent have beaten consensus estimates, according to Refinitiv.

Analysts see aggregate fourth-quarter S&P earnings posting a year-on-year gain of 2.4 per cent, a stark reversal from the 10.3% annual decline seen at the beginning of the year, per Refinitiv.

Walt Disney Co, Cisco Systems Inc and General Motors Co were up between 1.8 per cent and 4.9 per cent ahead of their earnings reports this week.

Bitcoin touched a record high after Tesla Inc announced it had invested around US$1.5 billion in the cryptocurrency and would begin accepting payment in Bitcoin for its cars and other products.

“This is really, I view it, as almost a seminal moment … in terms of Bitcoin from a transaction perspective,” said Daniel Ives, managing director at Wedbush Securities in Westfield, New Jersey. “I think this is really an eyebrow-raising move.”

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Tesla shares gained 1.3 per cent, while cryptocurrency miners Riot Blockchain and Marathon Patent Group surged 40.2 per cent and 42.4 per cent, respectively.

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Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 3.20-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.56-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 42 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 461 new highs and 6 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 15.32 billion shares, compared with the 15.51 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

(Reporting by Stephen Culp; additional reporting by Aleksandra Michalska; Editing by Dan Grebler)