Updated from 4:11 p.m. EDTThe S&P 500 traded through its all-time closing high Monday, but a sharp increase in oil prices kept the big-cap index from holding on and making history. At the end of trading, the S&P was up 2.35 points, or 0.15%, to 1525.10. Earlier, it pushed above its best-ever finish of 1527.46, set in March 2000. The Dow Jones Industrial Average also moved deeper in to record territory, rising by as many as 30 points, before pulling back. The Dow ultimately lost 13.65 points, or 0.1%, at 13,542.88. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq was the best performer of the bunch, better by 20.34 points, or 0.8%, at 2578.79. For a time, the bulls appeared to be taking control of the session, but a steady advance in crude cut the rally short. June dated oil futures ended with a gain of $1.33 at $66.27 a barrel. "The market was strong early, following last week's strength, but the shoot up in oil prices took the edge off," said Phillip Roth, chief technical market analyst with Miller Tabak. "I view this as an uptrend that is intact, but a lot of stocks are struggling. We'll continue to be choppy, and we probably will have a week without any progress." About 3.31 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, where advancers beat decliners by a 5-to-3 margin. Volume on the Nasdaq reached 1.93 billion shares, as winners outpaced losers 2 to 1.
On the corporate side, the newest round of takeovers was making headlines, including a roughly $25 billion deal for Alltel ( AT). TPG, formerly Texas Pacific Group, will team up with the private-equity arm of Goldman Sachs ( GS) to acquire the wireless carrier, and Alltel rose $4.39, or 6.7%, to finish the day at $69.60. Elsewhere, General Electric ( GE) confirmed that it will sell its plastics division for $11.6 billion to Saudi Basic Industries. GE, which said it expects the deal to close during the third quarter, was higher by 14 cents, or 0.4%, to $37.10. Another transaction will see Hologic ( HOLX) purchase Cytyc ( CYTC) in a $6.2 billion combination that will unite two sellers of health care products for women. Cytyc surged $7.95, to 22.7%, to close at $43. Lastly, Olin ( OLN) agreed to acquire fellow chlorine and caustic soda maker Pioneer ( PONR) for $35 a share, or $413 million. Shares of Pioneer jumped $4.81, or 16.4%, to $34.19. "While just a bit fanciful, the markets are not interested in stopping or even slowing down for economic reports that conflict with the view that all is well in the world of investing," said Paul Nolte, director of investments with Hinsdale Associates. "While the current euphoria over stock investing will likely last for a while longer, we are surprised at the few actual declines in the markets over the past two months."
A growing string of mergers and acquisitions, many of them led by private equity, has spurred an increase in the U.S. stock market in 2007. The Dow has collected more than 20 record highs. On Friday, the Dow gained 79.81 points, or 0.59%, to 13,556.53, its loftiest close of all time, and the S&P advanced 10 points, or 0.66%, to 1522.75. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq rose 19.07 points, or 0.75%, at 2558.45. "M&A and short-covering have kept this train chugging along, despite higher crude," said Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist with Cantor Fitzgerald. "The attention had been on the odds of a rate cut surrounding the last FOMC meeting. Since then, the economic news has looked stronger coming out of April, especially on the industrial side." Several firms were altering stock ratings. Citigroup upgraded both Comcast ( CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable ( TWC) to buy from hold. Comcast was higher by a penny, or 0.1%, at $27.54. Time Warner Cable added 41 cents, or 1.1%, to $38.31. Among downgrades, Bear Stearns cut its rating for Clear Channel ( CCU) to peer perform from outperform. The stock was off 16 cents, or 0.4%, to end at $38.07. Away from equities, government bond prices were slightly higher in the absence of any economic releases. The 10-year Treasury was up 3/32 in price to yield 4.79%. Precious metals dealt with a volatile session. Gold declined early but finished up $1.80 to $663.70 an ounce. Silver gained 13 cents to $13.13 an ounce. Stocks were mostly higher overseas, where Tokyo's Nikkei climbed 0.9% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged up 0.1%. Frankfurt's DAX was better by 0.2%, while London's FTSE slipped 0.1%.