By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street inched higher on Monday, putting the S&P 500 on track for its seventh straight advance as buyers moved in after earlier weakness and briefly lifted the benchmark index to its highest intraday level since October 2007.
With the modest advance, U.S. stocks continued last week's rally that took the Dow Jones industrial average to record highs. The S&P 500 is only about 10 points away from its all-time closing high.
Wall Street's "fear gauge" fell to the lowest level since April 2007, suggesting investors were not spooked by Monday's brief pullback, despite expectations by many investors that a correction may be looming. The CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX), known as the VIX, dropped 6.7 percent to 11.75.
U.S. equities have rallied strongly since the beginning of the year, helped by signs of improvement in the economy and the support of equities by the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing program, making recent pullbacks short lived as investors use them as a buying opportunity.
"These dips are consistently bought. There is definitely a soft floor for the market," said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Capital in Jersey City, New Jersey.
"It's a QE bid," Kenny said, referring to the Fed's policy of keeping short-term interest rates near zero since late 2008. "Quite frankly, earnings have not disappointed to the point where it is has been disrupted, and there is nothing out there that seems to be getting in the way of this slow but very consistent and methodical drift higher in the market."
On Monday, the S&P 500 rose to its highest intraday level since October 15, 2007.
The Dow has climbed 10 percent for the year, while the S&P 500 is up more than 9 percent.
Wall Street had traded slightly lower earlier in the day as Italy's credit downgrade and disappointing Chinese economic data gave investors a reason to pause.
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) gained 44.46 points, or 0.31 percent, to 14,441.53. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) rose 4.81 points, or 0.31 percent, to 1,555.99. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC) added 6.70 points, or 0.21 percent, to 3,251.11.
The U.S.-listed shares of BlackBerry (BBRY.O) (BB.TO) surged 12 percent to $14.63 after U.S. carriers said they would soon begin selling the company's long-delayed Z10 device.
Dell Inc (DELL.O) has agreed to give Carl Icahn a closer look at its books less than a week after the activist investor joined a growing chorus of opposition to founder Michael Dell's plan to take the world's No. 3 personal computer maker private. Dell shares gained 1.7 percent to $14.40, above the take-private offer price of $13.65.
Genworth Financial Inc (GNW.N) shares jumped 6.5 percent to $10.48 following a report by Barron's that the mortgage insurer's stock could almost double in the next year, boosted by gains in mortgage and healthcare pricing.
In contrast, Dick's Sporting Goods Inc (DKS.N) slid 10.3 percent to $45.40 after the retailer reported lower-than-expected fourth-quarter results and gave a disappointing forecast.
(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)