Kate Gibson
MarketWatch

NEW YORK: Stocks on Friday notched weekly gains that pushed the Standard & Poor’s 500 index to its highest close since mid-2008 as economic reports mostly offset concern about rising oil costs.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell nearly 2 points to 12,982.95, leaving it slightly up from the close a week ago.

The S&P 500 index rose 2.28 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,365.74, its highest level since June 2008, meaning it notched a new peak for the bull market that started in March 2009.

“The market has rallied in the face” of escalating fuel costs, said David Rolfe, chief investment officer at Wedgewood Partners in St. Louis, Mo.

“The sideways action we’re seeing is a tug of war between better economic data and raising energy prices,”

The Nasdaq composite rose 6.77 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,963.75.

Rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program pushed the price of crude to a nine-month high, with oil futures rising $1.94 to end at $109.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“Either we are going to have resolution to geopolitical tensions in Iran, or we’re going to continue to be concerned about disruptions in supply and watch it rise. If we thought we were getting closer to a resolution out of Iran, we would easily take $15 out of the price of a barrel of oil,” said Art Hogan, a managing director at Lazard Capital Markets.

“That said, that bid can get larger as things get hotter in the Strait of Hormuz,” he added of the shipping lane close to Iran’s border.

Stock indexes added to mild gains after a final read of February consumer confidence of 75.3, its highest in a year. Economists had expected the University of Michigan/Thomson Reuters gauge to come in at a reading of 73.

“Right now the improving labor market trumped rising gasoline prices in influencing confidence, which is good in that new jobs and wages can certainly help cushion the blow of an ever-rising cost of living,” Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak, wrote in an email.

The government reported new single-family homes sold at a 321,000 annual rate in January, compared to December’s upwardly revised level of 324,000, with the latter marking the biggest rise in monthly sales in a year. Economists expected sales of 315,000 in January.

Pierre Ellis, an economist at Decision Economics, said the improvement lends “additional support to the housing market,” and mirrors other positive signs in the industry.

Builders are growing more optimistic after seeing more people express interest in buying this year. They’ve also sought more permits to build single-family homes — one of several encouraging signs across the housing industry.

Sales prices for new homes are rising. The median sales price of a new home rose 0.3 percent in January to $217,100. In January, sales of previously occupied homes reached their highest level in nearly two years. And they have risen more than 13 percent in the past six months. Mortgage rates remain low.

But economists caution that housing is a long way from fully recovering. Builders have stopped working on many projects because it’s been hard for them to get financing or to compete with cheaper resale homes. For many Americans, buying a home remains too big a risk.

Though new-home sales represent less than 10 percent of the housing market, they have an outsized impact. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.