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US STOCKS-S&P 500 nears 4,000 points for the first time, Biden's spending plan on deck

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Medha Singh and Devik Jain
·4 min read
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(For a Reuters live blog on U.S., UK and European stock markets, click LIVE/ or type LIVE/ in a news window.)

* Walgreens rises after forecast raise

* U.S. private payrolls increase in March

* Three main indexes headed for quarterly gains

* Apple rises as UBS upgrades to 'buy'

* Indexes up: Dow 0.1%, S&P 0.8%, Nasdaq 2% (Updates to early afternoon)

By Medha Singh and Devik Jain

March 31 (Reuters) - Technology shares led the S&P 500 to a record high and the three major Wall Street indexes were set to wrap up their fourth straight quarterly gain on Wednesday, with investors awaiting details on President Joe Biden's massive infrastructure plan.

The benchmark index was nearing 4,000 points for the first time as bets on strong economic rebound helped markets ride out a quarter that saw a retail trading frenzy, inflation worries, a spike in Treasury yields and a U.S. hedge fund going bust.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq's 3% gain, however, has lagged the S&P 500's 6% rise and the Dow 8% addition this quarter as investors swapped growth-oriented stocks with underpriced shares deemed to benefit most from a full economic reopening.

"What you saw in the quarter to put a bow around it was an outperformance of the economically-sensitive and underperformance of all the things that really excelled during the pandemic," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.

"We're less concerned about inflation and more convinced that this is a manifestation of better economic activity."

The $3 trillion-$4 trillion infrastructure package will target traditional projects like roads and bridges alongside investments in the electric vehicle market.

The size and scale of the proposal, as well as the question of how it would be paid for is likely to set the stage for the next partisan clash in Congress.

Last week, the Dow hit a record closing high, thanks to the recent $1.9 trillion fiscal stimulus and vaccine rollouts.

The Nasdaq jumped more than 1.5% on Wednesday, but the index is about 6% off its all-time peak as high-flying tech names have been hit by a surge in U.S. 10-year bond yields.

At 11:34 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 40.90 points, or 0.12%, to 33,107.86, and the S&P 500 gained 33.21 points, or 0.84%, to 3,991.76 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 257.88 points, or 1.98%, to 13,303.27.

Technology sector jumped 2%, while consumer discretionary and communication services added about 1% each. Financials and energy stocks dropped in a reversal of this quarter's trend.

"Today's market is back to technology and away from the industrial economic reopening and certainly infrastructure stocks that were in focus yesterday," said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.

"It's very much a binary market - either technology or economic reopening trade - depending on the news of the day and that's really been the theme over the last 3-4 weeks."

Apple Inc rose 2.8% after brokerage UBS upgraded the stock to "buy" on stable long-term demand for iPhones with better authorized service providers.

Meanwhile, U.S. private employers boosted hiring in March as more Americans got vaccinated against COVID-19. The payroll report was in line with the recent signs of improvement in the labor market and comes ahead of a more comprehensive monthly jobs report on Friday.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc advanced 5% after raising its 2021 profit forecast on higher sales at its U.S. retail pharmacy stores.

Chewy Inc jumped 7.2% as brokerages raised their price targets on the stock after the online pet product retailer posted fourth-quarter profit from year-ago loss.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.7-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 2-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P 500 posted 26 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 66 new highs and 33 new lows. (Reporting by Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Sriraj Kalluvila and Arun Koyyur)