By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose moderately on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 ending at another all-time closing high on a jump in Apple and encouraging economic data.
The benchmark index hit a new intraday high in the last minutes of trading, following a session that was largely marked by slight moves as investors found few reasons to extend recent gains.
Technology shares led the day's advance, contributing to the Nasdaq's sharp gain.
Encouraging data on home prices and consumer confidence added to the day's positive tone, though a decline in regional business activity underlined the growth concerns that remain.
"Even though the overall backdrop isn't overly positive, the market has a strong underlying bid, where it wants to go up on earnings and the Federal Reserve having our back with policy," said Michael Mullaney, chief investment officer of Fiduciary Trust Co in Boston.
Apple (AAPL.O) rose 2.9 percent to $442.78 after coming to market with the largest non-bank bond sale in history as it seeks funding to return cash to shareholders. The tech giant has been one of the biggest drags on the S&P 500 this year, falling nearly 17 percent in 2013.
U.S. home prices rose in February at their fastest rate in almost seven years while consumer confidence rebounded in April. However, business activity in the U.S. Midwest unexpectedly contracted in April to its lowest level since September 2009.
The S&P 500 closed out its sixth straight month of gains, its longest winning streak since September 2009, as investors used any pullback as a buying opportunity.
"There's more good news than bad news, and the bad news isn't enough to disrupt the uptrend we've been in," said Steve Sosnick, equity-risk manager at Timber Hill/Interactive Brokers Group in Greenwich, Connecticut.
About 6.55 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, above the daily average so far this year of about 6.36 billion shares.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 21.05 points, or 0.14 percent, to 14,839.80 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 3.96 points, or 0.25 percent, to 1,597.57. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 21.77 points, or 0.66 percent, to close at 3,328.79.
Equities continue to draw support from expectations that central banks will maintain low interest rates and other economic stimulus measures. A statement from the Federal Reserve due Wednesday is expected to keep in place the central bank's pace of bond buying to stimulate the economy.
The European Central Bank will meet on Thursday. A Reuters poll of economists showed policymakers are expected to cut interest rates.
For the month of April, both the Dow and the S&P 500 rose 1.8 percent while the Nasdaq gained 1.9 percent.
The S&P 500 is up about 12 percent so far this year, contributing to concerns that a correction may be forthcoming.
"If the market continues at the pace it has been at, we'll end 2013 with gains of 43 percent; there's no way that will happen," said Mullaney, who helps oversee about $9.5 billion. "That means we'll either pull back or trade sideways for an extended period. Our bet is that we'll see weakness this summer."
Pfizer (PFE.N) shares weighed on the Dow industrials after the drugmaker posted lower-than-expected quarterly earnings and revenue, and trimmed its full-year profit outlook. Pfizer's stock fell 4.5 percent to $29.07.
With 306 S&P 500 components having reported results so far, 68.6 percent have beaten expectations, exceeding the average since 1994 of 63 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. Only 44 percent of companies have beaten revenue expectations, well under the long-term average of 62 percent.
Best Buy (BBY.N) retreated from its ill-fated European expansion by selling its stake in a joint venture to Carphone Warehouse Group (CPW.L) for less than half what it paid five years ago. Shares jumped 7.4 percent to $25.99.
Shares of security software maker Symantec Corp (SYMC.O) dropped 10 percent in a span of a few seconds before trading was halted. Equity traders called the move another single-stock "flash crash," in reference to the May 2010 selloff when the Dow fall more than 600 points in a matter of minutes. Symantec fell 1.2 percent to $24.30.
About 64 percent of shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed in positive territory while 58 percent of Nasdaq-listed shares closed higher.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)