Wall Street hits fresh record close

S&P 500 touches new high after weekly jobless claims hit three-month low.

US stocks closed mostly higher with the S&P 500 hitting a fresh record as investors cheered a sharp drop in weekly unemployment claims. The development was a welcome surprise ahead of tomorrow's official monthly jobs report.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 62 points, or 0.38%, to 16,422.

The broad S&P 500 index advanced three points, or 0.17%, to 1,877, breaking the closing record mark set two days ago.

Earlier, the S&P 500 touched a record intraday level of 1881.94.

Meanwhile, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite bucked the trend by slipping six points, or 0.14%, to 4,352.

In economic news, US initial jobless claims fell more than expected, dipping by 26,000 to a three-month low of 323,000. Analysts had tipped a figure of 335,000.

Tomorrow's jobs report is expected to show 163,000 new jobs were created in February, with the unemployment rate likely to dip to 6.5%.

Comments from Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley also soothed investor concerns, with the prominent member of the monetary policy setting Federal Open Market Committee remaining upbeat on the economy.

Mr Dudley said recent soft data hadn't dampened expectations for strong growth in 2014, with the Fed's taper likely to proceed at its next meeting in a fortnight.

In Europe, both the European Central Bank and Bank of England held rates at record lows. The ECB also slightly raised growth forecasts despite the growing threat of deflation.

The positive news in Europe and the US helped the Australian dollar climb above US91c for the first time this year.