S & P 500 tiptoes to new record high overnight

Global stocks have started the week mixed, with sentiment dampened by concerns about growth in China and the continuing political impasse in Italy.

At midday in New York, buyers stepped into the market to drive the Standard & Poor's 500 Index to an intraday record high. The S&P 500 was last up 0.21 per cent to 1,554.47, after earlier hitting a record 1,554.81.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.29 per cent, after earlier climbing to a fresh high of 14,440.67, while the Nasdaq Composite Index eked out a 0.10 per cent gain.

Limiting the Nasdaq's advance was a drop in shares of Apple, last 0.9 per cent weaker at US$427.59 after earlier falling as low as US$425.14, after Credit Agricole cut the stock to "outperform".

"There are lots of investors out there looking for opportunities to put more money to work in equities," Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group, told Reuters, "and they're using these little pullbacks we've had - and there haven't been many - as purchasing opportunities."

In addition, investors are already looking ahead to first-quarter reports.

"Earnings will come in focus over the next few weeks again as we come through the end of the quarter," Christopher McHugh, who helps manage about US$10 billion at Turner Investment Partners, told Bloomberg News, adding that that could be a catalyst for more buying and higher stock prices.

On Monday in Paris, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said its monthly composite leading indicators report showed that economic growth was "firming" in both the US and Japan.

The results were better in Europe: the euro area as a whole, and Germany in particular, showed bright signs, whereas there were "no further declines" in Italy or France.

That was somewhat good news for Italy which remains in a political stalemate after last month's inconclusive national elections and in the wake of a decision by Fitch to downgrade the country's debt on Friday.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index slipped 0.1 per cent to close at 295.26 in London. The gauge has still surged 5.6 per cent this year. Today, France's CAC 40 gave up 0.2 per cent and Germany's DAX slid almost 0.1 per cent. The UK's FTSE 100 advanced 0.2 per cent.

Leaders in Europe are set to meet on March 14 and 15 to discuss efforts to stabilise the finances of Cyprus. A bailout for Cyprus, which would be the fifth rescue for a euro nation since the region's crisis began in 2009, may involve a debt target of 100 per cent of gross domestic product in 2020, three EU officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told Bloomberg.

In a speech on Friday, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said the fund "believes" there's room for the European Central Bank to cut interest rates in order to bolster growth, with the recognition that inflation would run a bit higher in faster growth economies, including Germany. "Monetary policy should remain accommodative," Lagarde told Irish lawmakers.

- BusinessDesk

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