Kate Gibson
MarketWatch

NEW YORK: Stocks rose on Thursday, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the Dow Jones industrials finishing at record highs, as investors looked to get into equities as the first quarter came to a close.

The S&P 500 recorded a quarterly advance of 10 percent, its best performance in a year, with the bull market in March beginning a fifth year, supported by the easy monetary policy by the Federal Reserve and other central banks.

“Share prices are validating what has already come through in the form of corporate profits — they are at all-time highs,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott.

“It’s all the rage to talk about how it’s Fed-induced, and clearly the Fed has played a role in [the stock market’s] recovery, but we’re at 14 times forward earnings now, and that is not all that unreasonable,” Luschini said, referring to the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy.

In mid-morning, the S&P 500 surpassed its record close, set in October 2007, but its intraday high of 1,576.09, set on Oct. 11, 2007, remained elusive.

“A close over 1,565 today on the S&P 500 will surely get the media excited. It will probably get more people to move their S&P targets higher and the talk will be 1,600 is a ‘piece of cake.’ Since when was predicting the market over the short term like a walk in the park?” said Elliot Spar, market strategist at Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

After climbing to a high of 1,570.28, the S&P 500 closed up 6.34 points, or 0.4 percent, at 1,569.19.

“As investors really look at their holdings and evaluate the 10 percent gains for this quarter, that is a nice return,” said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

So-called “window dressing,” where fund managers want their end-of-quarter balance sheets to reflect participation in gaining stocks, is a likely factor in Thursday’s session, Silverblatt said.

Investors offered little reaction to largely disappointing economic reports, which had fourth-quarter economic growth revised up to 0.4 percent from a previous estimate of 0.1 percent, weekly jobless claims up by 16,000, and a gauge of business activity in the Chicago region worse than expected.

“Consumer confidence in March recently weakened, jobless claims appear to be turning up and now the Chicago PMI was weaker than expected,” noted Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG LLC.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 52.38 points, or 0.4 percent, to 14,578.54. The blue-chip index, which first took out its 2007 record high on March 5, rose 11.3 percent in the first quarter.

The Nasdaq composite added 11 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,267.52, leaving it up 8.2 percent for the quarter.

Wells Fargo Advisors on Thursday raised its year-end 2013 target range for the S&P 500 to 1,575-1,625 from 1,525-1,575, which it set last fall. Wells Fargo cited a broadening of growth into more segments of the economy and expectations that this year will see improving growth from both the industrial and housing markets.

U.S. markets are closed today in observance of Good Friday.