NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks rose to a record, capping the best month since October, as improving consumer confidence and speculation that the Federal Reserve will support the economy offset concern over escalating conflict in Ukraine.
Principal Financial Group rose 1.6 percent after Keefe, Bruyette & Woods raised its rating on the stock. Monster Beverage advanced 4 percent after reporting sales that beat analysts' estimates. Apple slid 0.3 percent as shareholders approved the company's proposals and rejected those that the board opposed at its annual meeting. Deckers Outdoor, the maker of Ugg boots, dropped 12 percent after forecasting an unexpected first-quarter loss.
The Standard & Poor's 500 Index climbed 0.3 percent to 1,859.45 at 4 p.m. in New York, capping a 1.3 percent gain for the week that left the gauge 4.3 percent higher in February. The Dow
Jones Industrial Average gained 49.06 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,321.71. About 7.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, 19 percent higher than the 30-day average.
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"We continue to be in an environment of recovery and modest growth, but not at a point of excessive strength that would cause a reversal in Federal Reserve policy when it came to raising interest rates," James Abate, who oversees about $1 billion as chief investment officer at Centre Asset Management in New York, said by phone. "It's positive for stocks."
U.S. equities are set to enter the sixth year of a bull market that started March 9, 2009. Three rounds of stimulus have helped push the S&P 500 up 175 percent from a 12-year low.
The index briefly erased gains in the afternoon after Ukrainian acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said Russia has invaded Ukraine's southern region of Crimea as gunmen seized airports and other facilities on the peninsula.
Russian forces are trying to provoke a conflict similar to the 2008 war with Georgia over a breakaway region, Turchynov said on Friday in a speech broadcast by the parliamentary television channel.
"Markets greet uncertainty with selling, especially entering a weekend," Joe Bell, senior equity analyst at Cincinnati-based Schaeffer's Investment Research, said by phone. "Technically, the market is kind of overextended as well. It's just an overbought situation. You're having people take profits."
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Thursday that the central bank may consider changing its strategy for reducing asset purchases should the economy weaken. Earlier this month, she said that the economy can withstand stimulus cuts, adding that only a notable change to the outlook would prompt the central bank to slow the pace of tapering.
Her latest comments helped the S&P 500 close at a record Thursday, ending three days of failing to sustain all-time highs throughout the trading session. The index closed up 1.3 percent this week, capping its third weekly gain this month.
"Although they don't expect to change tapering, Yellen did give a nod to if the economic data tells us that over the next couple months it's not just weather, then they will re- evaluate," Andres Garcia-Amaya, global market strategist at JPMorgan Chase's mutual funds unit in New York, said by phone. The firm oversees $400 billion. "The market took it on a stride and says, 'All right, the Fed still supports us.' "