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S&P 500 Milestones

S&P 500 milestones are not as dramatic as those of the Dow 30, but given the fact that the index represents the trading of 500 large-cap stocks, its movement is more telling.

After regaining the 15,000-level in early May, the S&P 500 last week made four runs at its record close of 1527.46 set March 24, 2000 only to fall back. But on May 30, a late rally carried the index to a new record close of 1530.23.

“If I had to pick one item that best describes the current price level it would be the P/E.” Howard Silverblatt, Standard & Poor's senior index analyst, said in a news release after the record close. “If the S&P 500 was selling at the same P/E it was back in March 2000, instead of being at 1527 it would be at 2594 based on trailing 12 month operating earnings or 2404 based on forward estimated operating earnings. "

Leading the pack during the seven-year period between record closes is the energy-based part of the S&P 500, which is up 145.7% -- almost double the gain of the No. 2 sector, materials (up 81.6%). Information technology has performed the worst as a group, down 61.1%.

Here's a history of the index.

Early Days

The S&P 500, as we know it, was launched in March 4, 1957. Prior to that, the main gauge was the S&P 90.

The S&P 500 did not close above the 100 mark until 1971.

It had climbed above 300 prior to the market crash of 1987. On the day of the crash, Oct 19, it fell from 282.70 to 224.83, a 20% decline.

Roaring Nineties

The index didn't cross the 500-point threshold until March 1995.

S&P 500

In less than three years it doubled, crossing the 1,000 mark in Feb. 1998.

The S&P 500’s first move above 1,500 took place on March 22, 2000.

The market's record close, 1,527.46, came on March 24. The record intraday high of 1553.11 was also that day. Both records would stand for more than six years.

Until recently, the last time it traded above 1,500 was September 2000

The S&P lost half of its value in the bear market – its closing low was 776.76 on Oct 9, 2002.

Bull Run of 2007

Since breaking 1500, the index has fallen below the key level a couple of times, only to bounce back and continue its march higher. After setting a new record high in early June, the market turned volatile.

July, however, brought new momentum, and the S&P 500 hit a closing high on July 12, finishing only about six points shy of its record intraday high. On July 13, the intraday high of six years prior was finally breached on the way to yet another record close.

The stock market then started to wilt in late July, and the S&P bottomed out at 1406.70 on Aug. 16. But concerns about a subprime mortgage market induced credit crunch slowly gave way, and stocks made a steady and impressive rebound. On Oct. 5, in the wake of a Fed interest rate cut and a rebound in the nonfarm payrolls, the S&P notched a new all-time of 1557.38.

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