U.S. stocks rise, S&P 500 heads for decade-best year gain

U.S. stocks rose, leaving the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index poised for the best annual gain since 2003, as weaker-than-forecast economic data fueled bets the Federal Reserve will maintain stimulus at its meeting.

The S&P 500 rose 0.1 percent to 1,762.15 at 4 p.m. in New York. The gauge has rallied 23.6 percent this year, which would be the best annual gain since a 26.4 percent surge in 2003. TheDow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.09 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 15,569.19.

“The most bullish thing a market can do is go up, and that’s what it’s been doing,” Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist at RW Baird & Co., said by phone from Sarasota, Florida. His firm oversees $100 billion. “With Janet Yellen coming on stream and the latest jobs data that was a disappointment, that suggests that the Fed will continue to ease and print money until at least March and probably beyond.”

The S&P 500 rallied 0.9 percent last week for its third straight weekly gain, as signs of slower economic recovery fueled bets the Fed will wait until March before scaling back bond purchases. The gauge has jumped 4.8 percent this month as lawmakers agreed to raise the government’s borrowing limit.

Fed policy makers meet Tuesday and Wednesday to consider whether economic growth is strong enough to start trimming $85 billion of bond purchases. This month’s 16-day government shutdown took at least $24 billion out of the economy and will spur central-bank policy makers to wait until March to scale back the stimulus, a Bloomberg survey showed this month.

Data today added to concern that growth slowed in the weeks before the shutdown. Factory output rose 0.1 percent in September, slower than the 0.3 percent forecast by economists in a Bloomberg survey. Another report showed fewer Americans than forecast signed contracts to buy previously owned homes in September, the fourth straight month of declines. A report last week showed hiring grew at a slower-than-estimated pace.

‘Overly Focused’

“Investors are going to be overly focused on this Fed meeting,” Scott Wren, senior equity strategist at St. Louis, Missouri-based Wells Fargo Advisors LLC., which oversees about $1.3 trillion, said by phone. “I suspect that when the statement is released there’s going to be very little change to it.”

Better-than-expected earnings and the Fed stimulus have driven the S&P 500 up more than 160 percent since March 2009. The rally has lifted equity valuations, with the index trading at 16.7 times reported earnings.

Profits have beaten the average analyst estimate at 76 percent of the 248 S&P 500 companies that have released results so far in the latest reporting season, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

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