By Anora M. Gaudiano and Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch
U.S. stock-market indexes pushed further into record territory, with the main benchmarks setting fresh intraday all-time highs on Wednesday.
The main benchmarks held on to earlier gains after the minutes from the latest Federal Reserve showed a distinct lack of unity over the central bank's projection of three rate rises in 2018.
Some policymakers think three rate hikes would be too aggressive, while others think such a pace pace would be too slow.
What are stock indexes doing?
The S&P 500 rose 13 points, or 0.5%, to 2,709, hitting an intraday record a day after closing at a record . Seven of the 11 main sectors were trading higher, with energy and technology shares leading the gains, up more than 1%. Telecoms and utilities shares were hit hard, however, falling 2.1% and 0.7%, respectively.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 52 points, or 0.2%, to 24,876, setting an intraday record for the first time in more than two weeks.
The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 49 points, or 0.7%, to 7,055.
What's driving the markets?
The positive trading mood from 2017 appeared to continue into 2018, with stocks in Asia and U.S. kicking off the new year on an strong note. European stocks rose on Wednesday after falling on Tuesday, taking a cue from Asia .
Markets got an additional boost from data showing expanding manufacturing activity in December and an uptick in construction spending in November.
The global stock advances came even amid geopolitical uncertainty in Iran, where at least 22 people have died in protests against the government. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets for pro-government rallies across the country, voicing their support for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The protests started last week over rising inflation and corruption, but focus has since shifted to a wider discontent with Iran's ruling system and Khamenei. The wave of unrest is now seen as the largest since a disputed 2009 presidential election, and it could filter into markets if it leads to a disruption to the region's oil industry.
What's coming up on the economic calendar?
The Federal Reserve in December forecast three rate hikes in 2018 , but minutes showed that policymakers were divided about the pace of rate increases.
Some thought three hikes were too aggressive and that they would tighten monetary conditions too soon. Meanwhile, others thought the pace of rate hikes was too slow.
According to the CME Group's data, the market is currently pricing in the next rate rise in March.
The ISM manufacturing index rose to 59.7% in December from 58.2 in November. Construction spending ticked up 0.8% in November and was 2.4% higher year over year.
What are strategists saying?
"What we are seeing is a typical continuation of a Santa Rally, with new money coming into equity funds," said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial.
"The question we get asked the most now is what can spark a normal pullback, since we haven't had one in a while. The answer is the Fed and whether inflation will creep up to the extent the Fed has to tighten more than three times this year," Krosby said.
Which stocks are in focus?
Scana Corp.(>> SCANA Corporation) soared 23% after the energy company agreed to an all-stock merger with Dominion Energy Inc.(D). Dominion shares fell 4.5%.
Shares of MoneyGram International Inc.(>> Moneygram International Inc) slumped 10% after the money transfer company and Ant Financial Services group, an affiliate of China-based Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (>> Alibaba Group Holding) late Tuesday said they have agreed to end their merger agreement after months of wrangling with the U.S. government.
Shares of Ford Company(F) and General Motors Co.(>> General Motors Corporation) rose, as car makers reported their monthly sales figures. Ford rose 0.4% while GM rose 1.6%.
Shares of Intel Corp(>> Intel Corporation) dropped 4.7% after news reports of chip design flaw that could make computers vulnerable to hacking.
Harvey-Davidson Inc.(>> Harley-Davidson Inc) shares dropped 3% after analysts at Longbow Research downgraded the stock to underperform from neutral.
What are other markets doing?
The dollar selloff paused , with the ICE dollar index up 0.2% at 92.020.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil rose 0.4% to $60.80 a barrel, while gold futures added 0.1% to $1,317.50 an ounce.
Bitcoin futures climbed 0.3% to $14,905, adding to a 2.7% rise from Tuesday that came after report that Founders Fund, led by venture capitalist luminary Peter Thiel, had amassed a stake in the digital currency .
Stocks in Asia closed in positive territory, while European stocks broadly traded higher .