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US: S&P 500, Dow end at record highs, boosted by healthcare

[NEW YORK] The Dow and S&P 500 closed at record highs on Tuesday, lifted by further gains in healthcare shares and hopes for a stronger global economy.

The S&P 500 scored its fourth straight day of gains.

Actavis Plc, Gilead Sciences and other biotechs were among the biggest drivers, a day after Allergan agreed to be bought by Actavis. The Nasdaq biotech index rose 2.1 per cent.

The S&P health care index added 1.6 per cent. Shares of Actavis were up 8.7 per cent at US$269.60, helped by bullish analyst notes, while Gilead's stock rose 3.3 per cent to US$103.71 per cent. "A little bit of a risk trade is coming back on, and those are the areas for the M&A," said Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners in New York. "It's a very, very good environment to buy growth, so I don't quibble with the notion that there's going to be more M&A." Among the biggest boosts to the Dow, shares of UnitedHealth were up 1.8 per cent at US$98.19.

Further supporting stocks, news of a snap election and a delayed tax increase in Japan strengthened hopes for new stimulus, a day after data showed Japan back in recession. In Europe, German analyst and investor sentiment advanced this month for the first time in almost a year.

Benign U.S. inflation data also helped.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 40.07 points, or 0.23 per cent, to 17,687.82, a record high. The S&P 500 gained 10.48 points, or 0.51 per cent, to 2,051.8, its biggest one-day move since Nov 5.

The Nasdaq Composite added 31.44 points, or 0.67 per cent, to 4,702.44.

Actavis was the S&P's biggest percentage gainer; the largest decliner was Urban Outfitters, down 6.6 per cent at US$28.79, following results.

On the Nasdaq 100, the largest gainer was Dish Network , up 3.9 per cent to US$67.85, while the largest decliner was Staples, down 1.6 per cent at US$12.76.

Among the most active NYSE stocks were Petrobras, up 0.96 per cent at US$9.42, and General Electric, up 1.50 per cent at US$27.01. On the Nasdaq, Apple, up 1.3 per cent to US$115.47, was among the most active.

About 6.1 billion shares traded on US exchanges, below the 6.4 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

NYSE advancers outnumbered decliners 1,862 to 1,217, for a 1.53-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,645 issues rose and 1,079 fell for a 1.52-to-1 ratio.

The S&P 500 was posted 77 new 52-week highs and one new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 95 new highs and 56 new lows.