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Stocks Finish Higher as S&P 500 Closes Above 1,500

The S&P 500 index closed above the 1,500 level for the first time in nearly seven years but overall gains were modest amid concern the market may be reaching a top.

"There is a lot of good news out there but we caution investors that it has been quite a while since a pullback in the stock market," said Alan Skrainka, chief market strategist at Edward Jones. "That concerns us a little bit."

The S&P 500 breached the psychologically significant 1,500 level, touching a high not seen since September 2000. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed with small gains but has ended higher in 22 of the last 25 trading sessions, a feat not accomplished since the 1920s.

"If you're thinking about where the market can go and not so much where it's been, I think the fundamental conditions out there are actually quite good in the stock market," said Charles Reinhard, director of portfolio strategy at Lehman Brothers Asset Management. "I think we'll get to 14,000 in the Dow and 1600 on the S&P 500 this year."

The Nasdaq traded at a six-year high, up more than 130% since hitting a multi-year low in late 2002. The tech-heavy index remains about 50% below the all-time high set in early 2000.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," said Jim Fisher, portfolio manager at M&T Investment Advisors. "If you look at the charts back starting in mid-March, we're in nose bleed territory right now. That is not to say that I'm not still bullish but there is some caution at the levels we are at now."

Breadth was positive with advancers outpacing decliners by a more than two to one on the NYSE. Seven of 10 economic sectors tracked by S&P traded in positive territory, led by telecom services stocks such as Verizon Communications .

Shares of Verizon, the second-largest U.S telecom, gained 3.7% after Cablevision Systems said it was losing customers to Verizon's new FiOS video and Internet service. Cablevision said Verizon's advanced fiber-optic network affected first-quarter subscriber growth.

Symantec shares rose more than 4% after the world's largest security software maker reported fiscal fourth-quarter earnings above expectations, despite a decline from the year-ago period.

Chip bellwether Intel said earnings growth will outpace sales growth as cost-cutting implementations bear fruit in 2007 and 2008. Shares fell slightly, pulling back from intraday gains of about 1%.

General Motors declined after the automaker reported an operating profit of 17 cents a share, well below the consensus estimate of 87 cents. GM said sales in North America remained weak, while financing arm GMAC was affected by weakness in the mortgage market.

Stocks traded mixed through much of Thursday's session ahead of the monthly nonfarm payrolls report set for release Friday morning. Economists, on average, predict the economy will 100,000 jobs last month.

"We had some good numbers today but people are looking at the streak in the Dow and I don't think anyone wants to make additional bets ahead of the employment numbers," said Charles Rotblut, senior market analyst at Zacks.com.

In other earnings news, CBS said first-quarter earnings fell despite reporting higher sales. The media company said tax charges related to the sale of radio stations hurt its bottom line.

Celgene shares fell after the biotech firm announced lower-than-expected sales of key cancer drug Revlimid.

JDSU fell wider than 15% after reporting quarterly results below Wall Street estimates with disappointing fourth-quarter guidance.

New York light crude futures were poised to close down for the fourth straight session. Energy commodities traded lower after data showed that weekly natural gas inventories rose unexpectedly.

The Institute for Supply Management services index rose to 56 from 52.4 in March, above expectations.

Investors are also looking ahead to next week's Federal Reserve policy meeting, set for May 9. Economists, on average, expect the Fed to keep rates steady.

Treasury prices turned lower, sending yields higher.

Europe Ends With Modest Gains, Asia Rises

European stocks closed up slightly, following upbeat U.S. economic news, while shares in Korea, Singapore and Australia closed at new highs. The London FTSE-100, ended slightly above the unchanged mark. France's CAC-40and Germany's DAX each saw modest gains.

UBS posted a decline in first-quarter earnings, falling short of consensus estimates, and said it will sell its hedge fund Dillon Read Capital Management.

Royal Dutch Shell beat analysts' forecasts, reporting a 14% rise in first-quarter earnings despite lower oil prices. Shares rose 1%.

French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis raised its full-year outlook after posting a decline in first-quarter profits, which came in ahead of expectations. Shares in the company fell following the mixed results.

Shares in Unilever gained as the U.K. based consumer goods giant posted a higher than expected rise in first-quarter underlying sales of 5.7% and said it was confident of meeting its full-year targets.

South Korea's Kospi Index rose to finish at a record as a slew of stronger-than-expected
earnings, including Korea Electric Power Corp, raised optimism about the health of corporate profits.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index edged higher to set a record closing high, led by gains in
the top miners and contractor Leighton Holdings, but a weak performance at its New Zealand operations pressured Westpac Banking .

Hong Kong stocks rose as another record high by U.S. blue chips boosted investor confidence and property shares outperformed ahead of next week's land auction.

Singapore's Straits Times Index rose more than 1% to hit a new all-time high. Banks led the gains, on expectations of higher first-quarter net profits in the next week. DBS Group Holdings kicks off earnings results on May 4.

Markets in Japan and China will be closed for holidays through the end of the week.

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