By Stephen Culp
NEW YORK, Aug 24 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq reached new record closing highs on Monday as optimism over potential medical advances in the war against the coronavirus pandemic pushed all three major U.S. stock indexes higher.
The benchmark S&P 500 reclaimed its February closing high last week, confirming a bull market and the fastest recovery from a bear market trough on record.
The blue-chip Dow, while leading Monday's gains, remains nearly 4.2% below its all-time high, and down 0.8% year-to-date. The Nasdaq and the S&P have gained 26.8% and 6.2%, respectively, since the final closing bell of 2019.
Of note, the Dow Transports index .DJT, often considered a barometer of U.S. economic health, handily outperformed the broader market.
"There's been a broadening in this rally and the what's reflected in the transports," said Chuck Carlson, chief executive officer at Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana. "(Higher) volume is accompanying this expanding breadth, and those are all bullish things."
Markets worldwide were given a boost by new developments in the global race to battle the coronavirus, including an announcement from the Food and Drug Administration that it had given emergency authorization for the use of plasma from recovered patients as a treatment option.
However, the World Health Organization expressed skepticism about the treatment due to "low quality" data.
The Trump administration is considering fast-tracking an experimental COVID-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca Plc AZN.L and Oxford University in hopes it could be deployed in the United States before Americans head to the polls in November.
"There's an element of that news helping the 'reopening trade,' which is a euphemism of economically sensitive stocks performing better," Carlson added.
The four-day Republican national convention got under way on Monday, with the party making the case for Trump's re-election.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans remained at loggerheads over funding levels and unemployment benefits.
Market participants will pay close attention to U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's remarks on monetary policy at this week's Kansas City Fed Jackson Hole symposium, which is being held this year in a virtual format.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 378.13 points, or 1.35%, to 28,308.46, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 34.12 points, or 1.00%, to 3,431.28 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 67.92 points, or 0.6%, to 11,379.72.
Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, all but healthcare .SPXHC ended the session in the black.
Energy .SPNY and financials .SPSY enjoyed the largest percentage gains.
Ahead of its 4-to-1 share split on Friday, Apple Inc AAPL.O provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, its share price closing above $500 days after becoming the first public U.S. company to top $2 trillion in market value. The stock gained 1.2%.
Boeing Co BA.N gave the Dow its biggest lift, rising 6.4%.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.52-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.26-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 45 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 84 new highs and 36 new lows.
Volume on U.S. exchanges was 8.94 billion shares, compared with the 9.53 billion average over the last 20 trading days.
(Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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