By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The three major U.S. stock indexes and the Russell 2000 posted record high closes for the second straight day on Tuesday, helped by gains in airlines and as carmakers rose after strong September vehicle sales.
Major automakers posted higher U.S. new vehicle sales in September as consumers in hurricane-hit parts of the country rushed to replace flood-damaged cars.
General Motors' <GM.N> shares rose 3.1 percent and hit a record intraday high, while Ford's <F.N> stock was up 2.1 percent.
Airline shares were among the biggest positives in the S&P 500. Delta Air Lines <DAL.N>, also the S&P 500's top percentage gainer, jumped 6.6 percent after it reported that its "cargo ton miles" metric rose 9.4 percent in September from a year earlier.
Shares of United Continental <UAL.N> gained 6.1 percent while the S&P 1500 airlines index <.SPCOMALI> was up 5.5 percent
The news was the latest evidence of economic growth. The signs, including factory data on Monday, have helped lead the market to recent record highs and boosted shares of economically sensitive companies including in materials and industrials.
"We're seeing moves into economically sensitive stocks, which is an indication that investors believe some of the favorable economic data that's coming out," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.
At the same time, investors have put aside some of their recent concerns, such as tensions between the United States and North Korea, he said.
The S&P industrials index <.SPLRCI> was up 0.5 percent and among sectors with the biggest gains on Tuesday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> rose 84.07 points, or 0.37 percent, to close at 22,641.67, the S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 5.46 points, or 0.22 percent, to 2,534.58 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 15.00 points, or 0.23 percent, to 6,531.71.
All three hit record closing highs, along with the Russell 2000 small-cap index <.RUT>, which has been lifted recently by optimism about tax law overhaul prospects.
Investors are also looking at upcoming quarterly earnings from major U.S. companies to help justify lofty market valuations.
Third-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to have risen 5.5 percent from a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters research, after rising a stronger-than-expected 12.3 percent in the second quarter.
Lennar Corp's <LEN.N> shares jumped 4.8 percent following a higher-than-expected quarterly profit from the No. 2 U.S. homebuilder.
Shares of TravelCenters of America <TA.O> rose 8.4 percent after Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc <BRKa.N> acquired a 38.6 percent stake in TravelCenters' competitor, Pilot Flying J.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.30-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.20-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
About 5.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges. That compares with the 6.3 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
(Additional reporting by Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and James Dalgleish)