S&P 500 Ventures Into Record Territory

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Wall Street reached another milestone Monday when the Standard & Poor's 500 index passed its record close of 1,527.46 for the first time since March 2000.

The S&P 500, considered by market professionals to be the best indicator of stock performance, surpassed its record shortly after noon following a fresh spate of takeover news. It followed the Dow Jones industrial average in recovering from its slump during the first few years of the decade.

It rose to 1,529.25, then edged back to 1,528.82, up 6.07 or 0.40 percent.

The Dow meanwhile, ventured further into record territory, rising 19.75, or 0.15 percent, to 13,576.28.

The technology-dominated Nasdaq composite index rose 26.93, or 1.05 percent, to 2,585.38.

Reassuring investors that acquisition activity will keep up its record pace this year, General Electric Co. said before the market opened it will sell its plastics division to Saudi Arabia's largest industrial company, Saudi Basic Industries Corp. The $11.6 billion deal is part of a broader restructuring at the conglomerate, and has been widely anticipated since last week.

The announcement followed news Sunday that telecommunications company Alltel Corp. agreed to be acquired for $24.8 billion, and that Blackstone Group LP — the second-largest U.S. private equity firm — will receive a $3 billion investment from China's upstart state investment company.

Acquisitions have been a primary catalyst behind the stock market's advance, and have been driven during the past year by a large push from private equity firms. Buyout shops have racked up more than $370 billion in global buyouts this year, and are on pace to surpass last year's record of $730 billion, according to financial data provider Dealogic.

All of the major stock market indicators reached record highs in early 2000, only to be dragged down first by the end of the dot-com boom, then by recession, the 2001 terror attacks and a series of corporate scandals including the collapse of Enron Corp. The S&P index fell to a low of 776.76 in October 2002 at the depths of a three-year bear market on Wall Street.

The market recovered slowly as investors rebuilt their confidence, but it wasn't until last October that the more widely recognized Dow Jones industrial average surpassed its own closing high of 11,722.98. The Dow has gone on to barrel past 13,000 as Wall Street rallies on a mixture of corporate takeover news, respectable earnings and hopes for an interest rate cut.

The Nasdaq composite index is unlikely to reclaim its record close of 5,048.62 anytime soon. The technology index was overinflated by investors eager to grab up any high-tech stock.