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S&P Closes on Record High as Yellen Reiterates Supportive Policy; Ukraine Seeks Aid

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A few words from Yellen. That's all it took for U.S. markets to jump higher Thursday, displaying parochialism in full force as the Ukraine reaches for aid and the Chinese currency nosedives.

On one level, the gains should have been surprising, with the Federal Reserve chairwoman suggesting bad weather might only partly explain recent economic weakness. But she reiterated that policy would remain accommodative even as the Fed wound back stimulus, and that was all investors needed to hear.

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 0.46% higher at 16,272.71 while the S&P 500 was up 0.50% to close at a record high of 1,854.30. The Nasdaq gained 0.63% to finish at 4,318.93.
  • Yellen, in testimony before the Senate Banking Committee in Washington, acknowledged that economic data had been softer since her last appearance. She said low inflation gave the central bank room to pursue a higher employment target. Her testimony was ongoing Thursday afternoon.
  • Elevated tensions continue in the Ukraine, with International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde saying the body was ready to respond to an aid request and would send a fact-finding mission to Kiev in coming days. The Ukraine is seeking $35 billion in aid from Western lenders.
  • Domestically, durable goods orders for January fell less than expected and a long-term indicator of unemployment was stable. Initial jobless claims for the week ended Feb. 22 rose 14,000 to 348,000, according to the Labor Department, compared with the average estimate of economists of 335,000. The four-week moving average was unchanged. Durable goods fell by 1% in January vs. the expected 1.5% decline, according to the Census Bureau, as manufacturing recovered from the winter weather.
  • European stocks were mixed despite data showing a greater-than-expected fall in joblessness in February in Germany. The DAX in Germany finished 0.76% lower and the UK FTSE 100 was up 0.16%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 1.74% and the Nikkei 225 in Japan fell 0.32%.
  • In stock news, Mylan (MYL - Get Report) gained 9.43% after its chief executive said it would look across the sector for deals to boost its earnings. Sears Holdings (SHLD - Get Report) was more than 6.5% higher after its fourth-quarter loss narrowed. Best Buy (BBY) finished 1.12% lower even as after its fourth-quarter earnings of $1.24 a share surpassed estimates by 23 cents. Baidu (BIDU) was 3.5% higher as mobile revenue growth drove the company to better-than-expected quarterly results. J.C. Penney (JCP) leapt over 25% as it forecast a rise in annual revenue and fatter margins. Hilton (HLT) was 0.22% lower after reporting fourth-quarter earnings per share of 11 cents, 5 cents short of Wall Street targets.

WATCH: S&P at Record High After Yellen Reassures on Dovish Policy Stance

-- By Jane Searle in New York

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