Brian Singer, partner at William Blair in Chicago, said the market's gains Thursday were more about a lack of any major negative developments than the appearance of any good ones. Investors aren't necessarily convinced of the economy's health, but they've learned to live with the sicknesses.
"We are looking at a realization that Western civilization is not ending as we know it," Singer said. "Fiscal discussions in the U.S. have settled into an acceptable stalemate. The Italian elections that did not result in a government are on hold. Cyprus hasn't sunk into the Mediterranean."
Thursday also marked the end of the first quarter, since markets are closed for Good Friday. Overall, it's been a strong quarter.
The Dow climbed for the first 10 trading days of March — a record not matched in more than 16 years. In the past 10 days, though, it has wavered under the weight of Cyprus.
The Dow rose 11 percent in the first three months of the year, 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 and rumors were buzzing that the government might nationalize U.S. banks, the S&P had cratered from its lofty heights. It fell to its Great Recession low, 676.53, on March 9, 2009 — down 57 percent from its October 2007 pinnacle.
Now, with Thursday's gains, it has more than doubled since reaching that bottom. Including dividends, it is up more than 150 percent.