By Leah Schnurr
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks continued their climb into uncharted territory on Friday, racking up the fourth week of gains in a row as encouraging economic data prompted investors to pick up shares of growth companies.
The Dow and the S&P 500 finished at fresh record highs, driven by gains in energy and industrial shares. The indexes have pushed to a series of never-before-seen levels as part of the rally that has lifted equities more than 16 percent for the year so far.
In a sign of how far the market has come, the S&P 500 is also about 1,000 points above the low hit in March 2009 in the wake of the credit crisis and recession. Shares picked up strength late in the day on Friday, with the S&P 500 rising 1 percent not long before the closing bell.
"It's hard to hold this market down," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at RDM Financial in Westport, Connecticut.
Data showed Americans felt better about their economic and financial prospects in early May, with consumer sentiment at its highest in nearly six years, while a gauge of future economic activity rose in April to a near five-year high.
"If you believe the economy is going to gradually get better and that global growth will improve, the parts of the market that have not benefited so far, like cyclicals, will probably be the next group to outperform," Sheldon said.
Boeing (BA.N) shares led the S&P 500's industrial sector index (.SPLRCI) higher with a 2.4 percent advance to $98.92, its highest since October 2007. The S&P industrial index rose 1.4 percent.
The S&P energy sector index (.SPNY) gained 0.8 percent, with Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) up 1.2 percent at $91.76.
The rate of growth in the U.S. economy has been expected to slow in the second quarter as tighter fiscal policy starts to bite. But recent improvement, including in the labor market and retail sales, has suggested the recovery remains resilient.
As slow as it is, "we are still recovering," said Doreen Mogavero, CEO of Mogavero, Lee & Co in New York. "The U.S. (market), for all its woes, is still the best place to be at this moment."
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) gained 121.18 points, or 0.80 percent, to close at a record 15,354.40. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) rose 15.65 points, or 0.95 percent, to end at a record 1,666.12. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC) climbed 33.72 points, or 0.97 percent, to finish at 3,498.97 - its highest close since October 2000.
Earlier in the session, the Dow touched an all-time intraday high at 15,357.40, while the S&P 500 rose to a record intraday high at 1,667.38.
For the week, the Dow advanced 1.6 percent, while the S&P 500 climbed 2 percent and the Nasdaq rose 1.8 percent.
For the year so far, the Dow has climbed 17.2 percent, while the S&P 500 has gained 16.8 percent and the Nasdaq has advanced 15.9 percent.
JPMorgan raised its year-end target for the S&P 500 to 1,715 from 1,580, implying a gain of just under 3.5 percent for the index for the rest of the year.
"We realize investors are apprehensive about making fresh money purchases, but we see the risk/reward as particularly attractive in Technology, Healthcare, and Financials," said the client note from JPMorgan's U.S. equity strategist Thomas Lee.
General Motors Co (GM.N) rose 3.2 percent to $33.42, breaking above its 2010 initial public offering price of $33 for the first time since May 2011. CLSA raised its rating on the automaker's stock to "buy" from "underperform." [ID:nL2N0DY0TJ]During Friday's session, GM's stock hit a 52-week high at $33.77.
JCPenney (JCP.N) shares lost 4.2 percent to $18.01 after the retailer reported another steep quarterly loss on weak sales and heavy clearance deals, and Chief Executive Myron Ullman cautioned he needs time to fix the company's problems.
Tableau Software (DATA.N) surged in its first day of trading as investors bet the rising interest in big data will drive the data analysis software maker's growth. Tableau surged 63.7 percent to $50.75.
S&P Dow Jones Indices said after the close on Thursday that S&P MidCap 400 (.MID) component Kansas City Southern (KSU.N) will replace Dean Foods Co (DF.N) in the S&P 500. Kansas City Southern shares gained 0.8 percent to $117.16, while Dean Foods rose 1.8 percent to $20.95.
Aruba Networks Inc (ARUN.O) plunged 25.6 percent to $13.10 after the network equipment maker released fourth-quarter results well below Wall Street's expectations, hurt by rising competition from Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O).
Volume was roughly 6.33 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, not far off the year-to-date average daily closing volume of 6.34 billion.
Advancers outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by a ratio of about 21 to 8. On the Nasdaq, 17 stocks rose for every eight that fell.
(Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Jan Paschal)