Feb 28 - Summary: The S&P 500 set a second record close in a row but worries about Ukraine pulled stocks off the highs of the day; Jeremy Siegel predicts 10 to 12 percent annual stock market gain; Economic data point to slight improvement. Conway G. Gittens reports.
The U.S. economy is already starting to look a little brighter - leading the S&P 500 to close the month at a record high. But stocks finished well below the best of the day as worries about Ukraine crept in late in the session. As for the week, Blue chips gained 1.4 percent and the Nasdaq tacked on one percent. Buckle your seat belts and get ready to ride this bull market higher, says Wharton Professor Jeremy Siegel. SOUNDBITE: JEREMY SIEGEL, PROFESSOR, WHARTON SCHOOL OF BUSINESS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA (ENGLISH) SAYING: "My feeling is the fair market value of the Dow Jones is about 18,000, for the S&P 500, I guess, we would say, it's around 2,000, which would be approximately a 10 percent, 12 percent return this year, certainly not as big as 2013, but I still think that we are slightly undervalued on a long-term basis with respect to the stock averages." One reason for that optimism: the weather won't hold back the economy much longer. Manufacturing activity in the Midwest surprisingly ticked higher in February, ending three months of slower growth. Consumer sentiment improved marginally at the end of the month with shoppers more optimistic about the future... And signed contracts for home purchases moved slightly higher in January after falling the month before. Those signs of slow economic progress, overshadowing a downgrade of fourth-quarter growth figures to 2.4 percent from the 3.2 percent annual rate first announced. In corporate headlines: Mt. Gox, once the largest bitcoin exchange, officially filed for bankruptcy protection. The exchange says it lost up to half a billion dollars of investor funds in the controversial digital currency. Citigroup is restating earnings for 2013 after discovering fraud at a Mexican unit. The bank believes the fraud, which may have involved employees, was an isolated incident. Mattel, in a bid to build up sales and take on Lego, buying the parent of Mega Bloks for about $460 million. Shares of Mattel rallied and Canada's Mega Brands surged over 35 percent. GrubHub Seamless, the largest online food delivery service in the U.S., has filed for an initial public offering. Last year Americans spent $1.3 billion on food deliveries through its websites. In Europe: stocks were mostly higher on solid corporate profits, but nervous eyes remain on the situation in Ukraine.