NEW YORK — For the second time in less than a month, the stock market marched past a big milepost on its long, turbulent journey back from the Great Recession, toppling another record left over from the days before government bailouts and failing investment banks.
The Standard & Poor's 500 closed at a new high Thursday, three weeks after the Dow Jones Industrial Average obliterated its own closing record. The S&P capped its best quarter in a year, rising 10 percent, and the Dow had its best first quarter in 15 years, climbing 11 percent.
The numbers offer more evidence that investors believe the economy is on the mend, said Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ. "The low-flying recovery is gaining altitude," he said.
Thursday's performance was driven by encouraging economic data. Companies are making record profits quarter after quarter. They're hiring in greater numbers, and the housing market is finally recovering. The economy has expanded for 14 quarters in a row.
The Fed has helped, too. By keeping interest rates near record lows, the central bank has encouraged people to move money out of savings accounts that pay next to nothing and into stocks and other investments.
On Thursday, the S&P 500 rose 6.34 points, or 0.41 percent, to 1,569.19, beating by 4 points its previous record close of 1,565.15 set on Oct. 9, 2007.
The Dow's 11 percent gain in the first three months of the year was its best quarterly performance since the fourth quarter of 2011. Last year, it lost ground in two quarters and was up by smaller amounts — 4 percent and 8 percent — in the other two. On March 5, it beat its own all-time record of 14,164.53, which was also set on Oct. 9, 2007, and has been climbing ever since.
To be sure, the S&P 500's last record was followed by a painful downfall. By March 2009, long after the subprime mortgage market had been revealed as an unsustainable bubble, the S&P had cratered from its lofty heights. On March 9, 2009, it fell to its Great Recession low of 676.53 — down 57 percent from its October 2007 pinnacle.
With Thursday's gain, it has climbed 132 percent since reaching the bottom.