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The close: S&P 500 nears record Add to ...

Stocks climbed in afternoon trading on Tuesday, sending the U.S. benchmark index to its highest close in more than five years – and within two points of a new record high.

The S&P 500 closed at 1563.77, up 12.08 points or 0.8 per cent. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average closed at 14,559.65, up 111.90 points or 0.8 per cent. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index closed at 12,706.38, up 25.67 points or 0.2 per cent.

The gains continue the S&P 500’s bizarre flirtation with record-high territory. On Monday, the index came within a quarter point of rising above its record high of 1565.15, in October of 2007. However, it subsequently retreated over concerns about using the Cyprus bailout as a template for others, ending the day lower.

It also came close to the mark on March 14, but similarly failed to seize the moment.

Tuesday’s gains followed mixed U.S. economic news. U.S. home prices showed strength in January. The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index for 20 cities rose 8.1 per cent over last year, up from a 6.8 per cent gain in December and ahead of expectations.

As well, durable goods orders in February rose 5.7 per cent, beating expectations. However, the above-consensus reading was due to volatile transportation orders. Ignoring them, durable goods fell 0.5 per cent, which missed expectations.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index slumped to a reading of 59.7, down sharply from a revised reading of 68 in February and well below expectations.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. rose 0.3 per cent after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said it would convert warrants into common shares, potentially making Berkshire one of Goldman Sachs’ largest investors. Berkshire Hathaway “A” shares rose 1.2 per cent.

In Canada, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions announced that Canada’s six biggest banks are now identified as “domestic systemically important banks.” That means they are too big to fail, but the label also means that they will have to maintain high capital levels.

The move, which was widely expected, did not have a big impact on financial stocks. Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank rose 0.3 per cent each.

Among commodities, crude oil rose to $96.27 (U.S.) a barrel, up $1.46. Gold fell to $1,596.10 an ounce, down $8.50.

Among Canadian commodity producers, Suncor Energy Inc. fell 0.1 per cent, Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. rose 0.7 per cent and Barrick Gold Corp. fell 1.1 per cent.

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