NEW YORK — For the second time in less than a month, the stock market marched past another 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 in the first three months of 2013.
The S&P index, a core holding in many 401(k) plans, has now recovered all of its losses from the recession and the financial crisis that followed.
Thursday marked the end of the first quarter, because markets are closed for Good Friday.
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,” Mr. Stovall said, citing a truism among investors that rising stock prices come first, then the economy catches up.
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.
Investors warned clients not to get overly excited.
“Getting back to where we were is an important step,” said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. But he cautioned in a note to investors: “Markets are volatile, and if you are a long-term investor you should expect declines.”
On Thursday, the S&P 500 rose 6.34 points, or 0.41 percent, to 1,569.19, beating by four points its previous record of 1,565.15 set on Oct. 9, 2007.
Investors who put their dividends back into the market have done even better. A $10,000 investment in the S&P back in October, 2007, would be worth $11,270.
On any other day, a market gain of six points would go unheralded. But not after the turmoil that began in late 2008 and persisted through a slow, sometimes stalled recovery.
The S&P 500 is a barometer that gauges market performance. And while professional investors might scoff at using it to decide when to buy and sell, the breaking of an old record can be psychologically important.
Many obstacles still loom.
The U.S. economy is stable, but growth is anemic.
Unemployment is 7.7 percent, versus 4.7 percent, the last time the S&P notched a record.
The European debt crisis is far from resolved.
An index of the entire world’s stock markets, without the United States, is still down about 29 percent from the level it hit in 2007, according to analysis done by Ned Davis Research.
“The U.S. addressed the problems of the financial crisis faster and with much more ferocity than the rest of the world,” said Edward Clissold, a market strategist at Ned Davis Research.
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.
“We are looking at a realization that Western civilization is not ending as we know it,” Mr. 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.”