Stocks record biggest gains of year; Dow up 218

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The Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed up 24.87 points, or 1.8 percent, at 1,395.96, its highest level since June 5, 2008. The S&P has gained 11 percent since Jan. 1, more than what it posts in an average year.

Brian Gendreau, market strategist at Cetera Financial, said stocks could still go higher. Investors are paying roughly 13 times the past year’s earnings for the S&P 500 index. The long-term average is closer to 15.

“Valuations are still very cheap,” he said.

The dollar rose against the euro and hit an 11-month high against the Japanese yen after the Federal Reserve assessment. The euro fell to $1.3073 late Tuesday from $1.3150 late Monday. The dollar soared to 83.08 yen from 82.26 late Monday.

The retail sales report showed a gain of 1.1 percent last month. Some of it reflected higher gas prices, but Americans also spent more on cars, clothes and appliances. Department stores had their biggest gains in more than a year. The government also revised its estimates higher for December and January.

A reading of confidence among small business owners also rose in February for the sixth month in a row. The National Federation of Independent Business optimism index reached its highest level in a year, helped by an increase in expected sales.

The rally gained strength in the afternoon when the Federal Reserve said it saw signs of an improving economy and expected the unemployment rate to keep falling. The Fed also said strains in the global financial markets have eased.

Among companies making big moves:

• Great Wolf Resorts jumped 27 percent to $5.13. Apollo Global Management said it has agreed to buy the indoor water park operator for $5 a share.

• Urban Outfitters dropped 5.3 percent, the worst drop in the S&P 500 index. The retailer reported earnings that fell below what analysts were expecting after it had to mark down prices on women’s clothing at its Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters stores.

• Carmike Cinemas soared 17 percent. The Georgia-based movie theater chain reported earnings and sales that far outpaced what Wall Street analysts had expected.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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