NEW YORK (AP) -- The Dow Jones industrial average swept past 12,000 for the first time Wednesday, extending its march into record territory as investors grow increasingly optimistic about corporate earnings and the economy.
The index of 30 big-name stocks surpassed the milestone just after trading began, rising as high as 12,049.51, before pulling back below 12,000 as investors collected cashed in some of their gains. The Dow had already set closing records seven times during the past two weeks.
It took the Dow 7 1/2 years to make the trip from 11,000, having been pummeled during that time by the dot-com bust, recession and the aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks. That slow trek was a striking contrast with the Dow's sprint from 10,000 to 11,000 in just 24 days in the spring of 1999, during the heady days of the Internet boom.
The Dow, whose stocks include blue chips such as International Business Machines Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., has risen well over 300 points so far this month as oil prices retreated below $60 a barrel and it appeared the economy was headed for a soft landing after more than two years of interest rate increases.
The Dow's quick move past 12,000 Wednesday came after a Labor Department report indicated consumer price pressures are leveling off and third-quarter earnings reports from companies including IBM bolstered investors' confidence.
In late morning trading, the Dow was up 30.26, or 0.25 percent, at 11,980.28.
Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 0.60, or 0.04 percent, at 1,364.65, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 8.33, or 0.36 percent, to 2,336.62.
Bonds showed little movement, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury flat with 4.77 percent from late Tuesday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.
Light, sweet crude rose 2 cents to $58.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The Energy Department said U.S. crude inventories rose more than expected last week, though gasoline stores fell.
Investors' relief over oil's decline from a high of $78.40 has given Wall Street an unusually strong October and powered the Dow higher; some of the market's worst days, including the 1929 and 1987 crashes, have been in October. And it was on Oct. 9, 2002, in the depths of the bear market, that the major indexes fell to their lowest levels in five and six years - the Dow closed that day at 7,286.27.
The Dow has recovered faster from the stock market's troubles than the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq have done. All three indexes peaked in early 2000 before dropping precipitously, but the S&P 500 and Nasdaq suffered more because of the heavy representation of high-tech issues among their stocks.
The S&P 500 is getting closer to its peak of 1,527.46, but the Nasdaq, which was bloated by its vast number of tech stocks, remains well below its high of 5,048.62.
Still, some analysts downplayed the Dow's achievement, noting that many smaller stocks had already recovered.
"Focusing on this one index is very short sighted," said Tom McManus, an investment strategist with Banc of America Securities. "What you're seeing here is the mega-cap stocks playing catch up to the rest of the market, and not even doing it robustly either. We've seen very impressive gains for the so-called broad market, but the Dow just isn't as relevant any longer."
Al Goldman, chief market strategist at A.G. Edwards, said too often investors rush into the market when milestones are reached and then arrive in time for the markets to pull back.
"The market needs a pause to refresh. More often than not, you're short-term extended and then you sell back down and then go into a normal and healthy level."
The drop in the September consumer price index, the key measure of inflation, was aided by a decline in energy costs. The closely followed core inflation figure, which excludes energy and food, rose a modest 0.2 percent, in line with expectations. The increase helped advance the notion that inflation might remain in check, giving the Federal Reserve room to continue to hold on interest rates.
In other economic data, the Commerce Department reported a stronger-than-expected increase in September housing starts. The figure rose 5.9 percent, rather than falling 1.2 percent as had been expected.
Building permits, considered a less-reliable figure, fell 6.3 percent.
IBM rose $3.41, or 3.92 percent, to $90.36 after the company showed a nearly 50 percent jump in its third-quarter profit, topping Wall Street's forecast.
Intel rose 32 cents to $21.22. Although the world's largest chipmaker posted lower earnings and revenue, results were better than Wall Street expected. The company's stock had fallen Wednesday ahead of its report amid concerns about profits and a downgrade.
Mellon Financial Corp., a trust bank, rose 79 cents, or 2.06 percent, to $39.11 after posting a 14 percent increase in its third-quarter profit amid growth in its asset management operations.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 495.7 million shares, compared with 490 million shares Tuesday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 0.50, or 0.07 percent, to 765.41.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed up 0.25 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.81 percent, Germany's DAX index was up 1.28 percent, and France's CAC-40 was up 1.20 percent.