Wall Street closes at record high as US confidence grows

Wall Street ended trading at a fresh high on Thursday, in a sign of growing confidence in the US economy.

Wall Street ended trading at a fresh high on Thursday, in a sign of growing confidence in the US economy.

The broad-based S&P 500 Index closed at 1569.19, up 6.34 points, pushing past the previous record of 1565.15 set on October 9, 2007.

The narrower Dow Jones Industrial Average, which burst through its October 2007 record three weeks ago, propelled to yet another new closing peak of 14,578.54, up 52.38 points.

The nominal record set by the S&P 500 is the latest sign that the US is recovering some of the strength it had before the financial collapse of 2008, partly helped by stimulus from the Federal Reserve.

The S&P reached the record high after several days of testing the record as investors grappled with the turmoil caused by the Cyprus banking crisis.

Even with the stronger close on Wall Street, trading on Asian markets was mixed on Friday.

Australia's market, which was closed for the Good Friday holiday, ended the shortened week sideways, losing less than a point.

For the week, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index fell 0.8 points

to 4966.5, while the broader

All Ordinaries Index fell 0.9 points

to 4979.9.

So far this year the Australian sharemarket is up 6.8 per cent, although it is still more than 1800 points from its record high. The market hit a peak of 6828.7 on November 1, 2007.

Attention remained focused on Cyprus, which this week reopened its troubled banks, albeit with tight controls over withdrawals.

The trading week began with investors waiting to see if European authorities had come up with a crucial last-minute deal to secure some sort of bailout agreement for the island nation.

The week before, Cyprus had fallen into serious trouble when an original bailout deal - hammered out by authorities including the International Monetary Fund - had imposed a levy on Cypriot bank deposits to force the country to contribute to a multibillion-euro rescue package. Global markets were seriously unsettled when that deal was rejected.

This week, world markets rallied briefly after Europe's leaders struck a late deal to prevent a meltdown in the Cypriot banking system.

But then they were hit again, this time by reports that the bailout deal could be used as a blueprint for other ailing European nations.

Despite all this, currency traders said foreign exchange markets had already moved on.

"Cypriot residents will feel the fiscal pain for a long time but foreign exchange markets are already looking elsewhere in Europe, where Italy's political farce is back on the front pages," said Robert Rennie, Westpac's chief currency strategist.

"It's Italy we are more worried about. The political story in Italy does not look good. After anti-establishment party Five Star rejected its offer of an alliance, Democratic Party leader [Pier Luigi] Bersani was quoted as saying, 'Only an insane person would want to govern this country, which is in a mess'. He has a point."

Australian shares have fallen 2.7 per cent in March, after three consecutive months of gains from December to February. In that

time, the market rose a cumulative 13 per cent.

For the week, Woodside Petroleum lost $1.12 to $35.82. Australia's energy players are looking at offshore gas processing to ensure resources such as the Browse and Scarborough fields are exploited in the near future.

Kathmandu Holdings rose 10¢ to $2.05, after it defied difficult retail conditions to post a hefty rise in first-half profit as new stores performed well and online sales grew.

Leighton Holdings rose 34¢ to $20.54 after the troubled company elevated Bob Humphris to chairman.

It is seeking quickly to put the sudden resignations of three directors behind it.

Nufarm lost 79¢ to $3.95. Shares in the company plunged after the agricultural chemicals supplier's profit fell 53 per cent.

Qantas rose 8.5¢ to $1.78. The airline is free to pursue its plan to revive its struggling international arm after the ACCC gave the green light to a partnership with Emirates.

Sundance Resources was placed in a trading halt and last traded at 21¢. Hanlong's takeover of Sundance Resources looks to be almost dead.

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