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Dow rallies 200 points to close above 27,000 for the first time ever

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Markets open higher as tech, consumer discretionary sectors hit new highs

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied to a record high on Thursday, led by UnitedHealth shares, after testimony by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell this week that signaled easier monetary policy could be implemented later this month.

The 30-stock average broke above 27,000 for the first time in its history, rising 227.88 points, or 0.9% to 27,088.08. The Dow first closed above 26,000 in January of 2018, so it's been a little more than a year-and-half trek between 1,000 point moves. The gains were largely driven by expectations the Fed will cut rates, insulating the market from a slowing economy and a trade battle with China.

Microsoft has been the best-performing Dow stock since the index's first close above 26,000, surging around 50% in that time. Visa, Cisco Systems and Nike are also up sharply since then.

"This week solidified the fact that the market doesn't need, it doesn't want, it's demanding a rate cut from Powell," said Jeff Kilburg, CEO of KKM Financial. "I do have a little bit of caution going into the earnings season because we have some forward-guidance uncertainty with the trade tensions, but the wind in the sails continues to be that dovish stance from Powell."

The S&P 500 also posted a record close, rising 0.2% to 2,999.91. The S&P 500 made its own milestone on Wednesday when it traded above 3,000 for the first time ever. The  Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.1% to 8,196.04.

UnitedHealth shares surged more than 5% after the White House dropped a proposal to eliminate drug rebates. CVS Health and Cigna also jumped on the news, gaining 4.7% and 9.2%, respectively.

Delta Air Lines rose 1.1% on better-than-expected earnings.

In testimony to the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, Powell said business investments across the U.S. have slowed "notably" recently as uncertainties over the economic outlook linger. As a result, expectations of an upcoming rate cut grew.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

"Crosscurrents have reemerged," Powell said. "Many FOMC participants saw that the case for a somewhat more accommodative monetary policy had strengthened. Since then, based on incoming data and other developments, it appears that uncertainties around trade tensions and concerns about the strength of the global economy continue to weigh on the U.S. economic outlook."

Powell reiterated that testimony on Thursday. Market expectations for a rate cut later this month are at 100%, according to the CME Group's FedWatch tool.

Thursday's milestone was only the latest in the longest bull market in history. The bull run started in March of 2009 after the financial crisis. Back then, the Dow was trading around 6,600 points while the S&P 500 hovered below 1,000 points.

"Sure, 27,000 is just a number and in the whole scope of things isn't meaningful," said Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial. "What it is though, is a reminder for all investors that this bull market has ignored all the scary headlines for years and the dual benefit of fiscal and monetary policy could mean it has a lot longer to go than most expect."

In economic news, the U.S. consumer price index — a widely followed measure of inflation — rose more than expected last month, with the core CPI posting its biggest gain in 1½ years. But that failed to dent investors' expectations that the Fed will deliver a rate cut.

—CNBC's Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.

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Key Points
  • "If you assigned us [to] stabilize the dollar price of gold, monetary policy could do that, but the other things would fluctuate, and we wouldn't care," Powell says.
  • Though Powell distanced himself from the Fed nomination process, his comments put him at odds with the writings of Judy Shelton, a current nominee to the central bank.