By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks climbed for a second straight session on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 within striking distance of its record after comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin soothed anxiety that tensions over Ukraine could escalate.
Gains were broad, with nine of the 10 primary S&P 500 sector indexes higher for the day. An S&P technology sector index (.SPLRCT), up 1.4 percent, led the advance, buoyed by a rally in Microsoft Corp (MSFT).
Microsoft shares jumped 4 percent to $39.55, the biggest daily advance for the software company's stock since November. Tuesday's move took the stock near $40 for the first time since July 2000. Late Monday, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters that the company may unveil an iPad version of the company's Office software suite on March 27.
In an address to the Russian parliament, Putin said Russia didn't want Ukraine to be divided further, and that he did not want to seize more of the country after approving plans to make Crimea part of Russia following a disputed referendum.
The two-day advance of 1.7 percent marked the S&P 500's best back-to-back performance since early February. However, not all market participants were convinced that the relief over Ukraine would keep lifting equities.
"This is the triumph of hope over experience," said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer of Commonwealth Financial in Waltham, Massachusetts. "I would say investors should be very cautious. This doesn't seem to be a market that is trading on longer-term expectations or possibilities."
The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 88.97 points or 0.55 percent, to end at 16,336.19. The S&P 500 (^GSPC) gained 13.42 points or 0.72 percent, to finish at 1,872.25. The Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) added 53.364 points or 1.25 percent, to close at 4,333.313.
After the closing bell, Oracle Corp (ORCL.N) shares slid 4.9 percent to $36.95 after the company said new software sales and Internet-based software subscriptions in its fiscal third quarter rose 4 percent from a year earlier.
With the day's gain, the S&P 500 is just 0.3 percent away from an all-time closing high hit earlier this month.
Investors were looking ahead to the conclusion of a two-day meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy-setting committee, which began as scheduled at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. The central bank is not expected to deviate from previously announced policy plans, but because the Fed's stimulus has kept a floor under equity prices, market participants will be attuned to any hint of a change.
In the latest economic data, the U.S. Consumer Price Index rose 0.1 percent in February, as expected, while housing starts slipped from the previous month.
In company news, Hertz Global Holdings Inc (HTZ) said it would spin off its equipment rental business for $2.5 billion and use part of the proceeds to fund a stock-buyback program. Hertz Global's shares slipped 0.5 percent to close at $27.08.
The stock of Nasdaq OMX Group Inc (NDAQ) lost 3.1 percent, its biggest drop since August 22, to close at $38.50. New York's attorney general urged U.S. stock exchanges and other venues to limit services that he said provided unfair advantages to high-frequency traders and undermined confidence in the markets.
In addition, the Wall Street Journal said Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (IPO-ALIB.N) is leaning toward listing shares on IntercontinentalExchange Group's (ICE) New York Stock Exchange.
GameStop Corp (GME) shares fell 3.4 percent to $38.39 and ranked as the S&P 500's worst performer after Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT) said it would allow shoppers to trade in used video games for anything from groceries to gadgets.
Volume was light for a second straight day, with about 5.33 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, well below the 6.77 billion average so far this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets. Volume on Monday totaled about 5.74 billion shares.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,346 to 700, while on the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners by 1,986 to 620.
(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)