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Stocks rally on new U.S. highs, dollar at two-year low

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Global equities rose on Tuesday as strong corporate results and accelerating U.S. homebuilding lifted the S&P 500 past highs set before the coronavirus crushed world economies, in a stimulus-fueled rally that has also pushed the dollar to two-year lows.

Traders work at their desks in front of the German share price index, DAX board, at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/Files

Both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite set records soon after the opening bell following strong sales growth as reported by major U.S. retailers including Walmart, Kohl’s and Home Depot.

The benchmark S&P 500 index topped an all-time peak reached in February just before the onset of COVID-19. The tech-heavy Nasdaq hit a record high for the second consecutive day in a session where declining stocks outnumbered rising shares.

(Graphic: S&P 500's bull-to-bear, bear-to-bull journey in 6 months )

“It’s a reflection that the pandemic has limited longevity and the economic downtown will also have limited longevity,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York, who acknowledged many investors are skeptical about a rally that confirms a bull market.

“We feel in about a year or so most of the population will be immunized with a vaccine and the economy will begin to return to accelerated growth,” Ghriskey said.

Historically low interest rates and very accommodative monetary and fiscal policy in the United States and abroad have aided the rally, said William Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Helena, Montana.

“The policy responses have been incredibly forceful and provided a necessary bridge through this voluntary economic shutdown as we deal with these conditions created by the pandemic,” Northey said.

The near-doubling of online sales in the second quarter helped Walmart Inc WMT.N trounce Wall Street expectations for quarterly profit and same-store sales.

The S&P slumped to a pandemic low on March 23 and has surged about 55% since then, making the bear market that started in late February the benchmark index’s shortest in history.

The S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.23%, led by AMZN.O and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 0.73%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 0.24%.

In Europe, the broad FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 closed down 0.52% at 1,424.85. MSCI's world equity index .MIWD00000PUS of equity markets in 49 nations rose 1.65 points or 0.29%, to 573.53.

(Graphic: S&P 500 PE revisits dot-com highs )

Gold rose more than 1% to climb back above the $2,000 level breached earlier this month, as the dollar fell against a basket of major currencies for a fifth consecutive trading day, under pressure from low yields and mostly bleak U.S. economic data.

The Fed’s intervention in financial markets to maintain liquidity in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has weakened the dollar, pushed risk assets to all-time highs and reduced demand for safe-havens.

The dollar index =USD fell 0.551%, with the euro EUR= up 0.53% to $1.1932. The Japanese yen JPY= strengthened 0.60% versus the greenback to 105.38 per dollar.

Spot gold prices XAU= rose 0.74% to $2,000.19 an ounce. U.S. gold futures GCv1 settled up 0.7% at $2,013.10.

U.S. housing starts jumped 22.6% in July in the latest sign homebuilding is emerging as one of the few areas of strength in an economy suffering a record slowdown because of the pandemic.

U.S. Treasury yields slid as the market largely snubbed the strong housing data and looked for signs that a political stalemate in Washington over a round of aid was easing.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury note US10YT=RR fell 1.8 basis points to yield 0.6655%.

Oil prices settled modestly higher in choppy trade. Brent crude futures LCOc1 rose 9 cents to settle at $45.46 a barrel. U.S. crude futures CLc1 settled unchanged at $42.89 a barrel.

Reporting by Herbert Lash, additional reporting by Stephen Culp in New York and Medha Singh in Bengaluru.; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Andrea Ricci