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S&P 500 rallies to new high to finish best month since February

U.S. stocks rose, finishing the biggest monthly gain since February, amid improving economic data and speculation that central banks will continue to spur growth.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 0.3 percent to a record 2,003.37. The index jumped 3.8 percent this month, the best August performance since 2000.

Economic reports showed consumer confidence unexpectedly rose in August, while consumer spending dropped in July for the first time in six months.

Euro-area inflation slowed this month to the weakest rate since 2009, increasing pressure on the European Central Bank to add stimulus.

American equity markets will be closed Monday for the Labor Day holiday.

The stock market has been experiencing the slowest trading in at least six years. Volume has been below 5 billion shares in each of the past eight days, the longest stretch in data compiled by Bloomberg going back to 2008.

“Investors’ lack of exposure to equities is still what drives the market higher, along with valuations which aren’t stretched,” said Paul Atkinson, head of North American equities at Aberdeen Asset Management Plc in Philadelphia. The firm oversees $551.4 billion.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 18.88 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,098.45. The Nasdaq composite index gained 0.5 percent to 4,580.27.

U.S. household purchases decreased 0.1 percent after increasing 0.4 percent in June, Commerce Department figures showed. None of the 79 economists in a Bloomberg survey projected a decrease.

Incomes climbed 0.2 percent, the smallest monthly advance this year.

Consumer confidence unexpectedly rose in August, showing a brightening in Americans’ moods as the labor market gains traction.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final sentiment index rose to 82.5 from 81.8 in July. The median projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 80.

“You look through the data we’ve gotten this week, it’s strong, I think what the stock market’s getting is that this lift is starting to help the consumer,” John Canally, chief economic strategist at Boston-based LPL Financial LLC, said via phone.

In Europe, consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in August from a year earlier after a 0.4 percent increase in July, the statistics office in Luxembourg said. Unemployment remained at 11.5 percent in July, Eurostat said in a separate report.

ECB President Mario Draghi said in a speech at a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo., that inflation expectations have deteriorated in the euro area and signaled that policymakers are ready to add fresh stimulus.

“The ECB meeting is next week and Draghi kind of pre-committed at Jackson Hole when he started talking about inflation being below their desired range,” Paul Zemsky, the New York-based head of multiasset strategies at Voya Investment Management LLC, which oversees $213 billion, said by phone. “If they don’t do something different, global markets will be disappointed.”

Avago Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: AVGO), a semiconductor-device supplier, climbed 7.5 percent to $82.09 for the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after it reported earnings that topped estimates.

Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. (Nasdaq: PSUN), a clothing retailer, slid 9.6 percent to $2.08 after projecting losses in the third quarter that were deeper than analysts’ had estimated.

Veeva Systems Inc. (NYSE: VEEV), the provider of cloud-based business services, jumped 20 percent to $29.97. It boosted its year-end earnings prediction and reported second-quarter earnings that beat estimates.

Nabors Industries Ltd. (NYSE: NBR), the oil, gas and geothermal land drilling operator, gained 3.6 percent to $27.21, the most in two months. A Bloomberg Industries report Thursday showed it stood to benefit from exposure to Argentina shale development.

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