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S&P 500 hits 2023 closing high as Powell strengthens peak rate bets

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the NYSE in New York

By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK (Reuters) -U.S. stocks rallied and the S&P registered its highest close of the year on Friday, starting December on an upbeat note as remarks from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell bolstered the view that key policy rates have peaked.

All three major U.S. stock indexes advanced, with economically sensitive transports and smallcaps enjoying the most robust gains.

"Those sectors - the cyclicals - they're the most hated parts of the market year-to-date, (and they) are the parts that are leading," said Scott Ladner, chief investment officer at Horizon Investments in Charlotte, North Carolina. "On the first day of December, when everybody's looking for a Santa Claus rally, it probably carries a little bit of extra weight."

"If December starts out strong, it's going to make folks jump on board and chase this rally," Ladner added.

All three indexes notched their fifth consecutive weekly percentage gains. On Thursday, they wrapped up a banner month in which the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq registered their biggest one-month percentage gains since July 2022, and the Dow closed at its highest level since January 2022.

In prepared remarks, Powell acknowledged the central bank's need to "move forward carefully" amid signs of economic softening, as the risks of over- and under-tightening its monetary policy are becoming more balanced.

"Earlier in the week, (Fed Governor Christopher) Waller, one of the Fed's biggest hawks, said as inflation decreases, we're going to drop rates," Ladner said. "The market thought that Powell would push against those remarks, and he didn't.

"(Powell) is setting the market up for rate cuts next year."

Data released on Friday showed U.S. manufacturing continues to contract as factories contend with decreasing new orders, falling inventories and labor pressures.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 294.61 points, or 0.82%, to 36,245.5, the S&P 500 gained 26.83 points, or 0.59%, at 4,594.63 and the Nasdaq Composite added 78.81 points, or 0.55%, at 14,305.03.

Among the 11 major sectors of the S&P 500, real estate was the biggest percentage gainer, while communication services was the sole decliner.

Pfizer slid 5.1% as the drugmaker dropped plans to advance a twice-daily version of oral weight-loss drug danuglipron into late-stage studies, delaying its entry into the lucrative market.

U.S.-listed shares of Alibaba slipped 1.2% following Morgan Stanley's downgrade of the e-commerce giant's stock.

Marvell Technology shed 5.3% after the chipmaker's fourth-quarter revenue forecast fell short of Street estimates.

Ulta Beauty surged 10.8 after the cosmetics retailer raised the lower end of its annual net sales forecast and named Paula Oyibo its new chief financial officer.

Paramount Global jumped 9.8% following a report the media company and Apple have discussed bundling their streaming services at a discount.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by a 5.93-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.32-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 59 new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 106 new highs and 82 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 12.34 billion shares, compared with the 10.58 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

(Reporting by Stephen Culp; Additional reporting by Shristi Achar A and Amruta Khandekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Chang)