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US STOCKS-S&P 500 futures hit record high as stimulus bets climb

Medha Singh

(For a live blog on the U.S. stock market, click or type LIVE/ in a news window.)

* S&P on verge of reclaiming February highs

* Index set to open about 14 pts below Feb 19 record

* Royal Caribbean eyes COVID-19 testing to help restart cruises

* Futures: Dow up 1.23%, S&P up 0.61%, Nasdaq down 0.12% (Adds details; prices)

By Medha Singh

Aug 11 (Reuters) - S&P 500 futures hit an all-time high on Tuesday, bringing the benchmark index to the verge of levels last seen before the coronavirus crisis hit in February, causing one of Wall Street's most dramatic crashes in history.

The benchmark index was on track to open just 0.5% below its peak from February 19, when investors started dumping shares in anticipation of what proved to be the biggest slump in the U.S. economy since the Great Depression.

Ultra-low interest rates, trillions of dollars in stimulus and, more recently, a better-than-feared second-quarter earnings season have allowed all three of Wall Street's main indexes to recover.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq has led the charge, boosted by "stay-at-home winners" Amazon.com, Netflix Inc and Apple Inc and futures in the index were up just over half a percent.

The blue-chip Dow is still about 6% below its February peak.

"You've got to admit that this is a market that wants to go up, despite tensions between U.S.-China, despite news of the coronavirus not being particularly encouraging," said Andrea Cicione, a strategist at TS Lombard.

"We're facing an emergency from the health, economy and employment point of view — the outlook is a lot less rosy. There's a disconnect between valuation and the actual outlook even though lower rates to some degree justify high valuation."

Aiding sentiment, President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had become the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine. But the approval's speed has concerned some experts as the vaccine still must complete final trials.

Investors are now hoping Republicans and Democrats will resolve their differences and agree on another relief program to support about 30 million unemployed Americans as the battle with the health crisis was far from over with U.S. cases surpassing 5 million last week.

"It's always given the market a little bit of a boost, thinking that we're close to a solution. In the short run, it is factoring into markets," said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.

Also in close watch is Sino-U.S. tensions ahead of a high-stakes trade talks in the coming weekend.

The benchmark index is set to open about 14 points below its Feb. 19 peak of 3,393.52.

At 8:38 a.m. ET, S&P 500 e-minis were up 20.5 points, or 0.61% to 3,373.25, topping an all-time high of 3,372.25 last hit on Feb. 20.

Dow e-minis were up 340 points, or 1.23%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 13 points, or 0.12%.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd advanced 6.8% after it hinted at new safety measures aimed at getting sailings going again after months of cancellations. Peers Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd and Carnival Corp also surged.

No. 1 U.S. mall owner Simon Property Group gained 2.5% despite posting disappointing second-quarter profit as its chief executive expressed some hope over a recovery in retail as lockdown measures in some regions eased. (Reporting by Medha Singh and Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Sruthi Shankar; editing by Uttaresh.V)