U.S. stock markets opened higher, setting gains for the S&P 500 to hit another record higher for the third consecutive session. -The S&P 500 Index rose 0.18% to 1848.60 -The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.45% to 16250.84 -The NASDAQ Composite rose 0.58% to 4312.48 . As of 10:37 a.m. ET Stocks have rallied in recent weeks, recouping most of their losses from tumultuous January trading, which was sparked by an emerging-market selloff. The S&P 500 advanced into record levels Monday and Tuesday, but both times failed to close above its all-time closing high of 1848.38, reached Jan. 15. Since last year`s record-setting rally brought many stock valuation metrics above their long-term average levels, investors and strategists say they expect only modest gains from U.S. stocks this year. The recent gains have come despite a string of disappointing economic releases, as investors contend the weakness is a result of bad weather in parts of the country, and therefore temporary. Earlier, the Mortgage Bankers Association said mortgage applications fell 8.5% on a seasonally adjusted basis in the latest week, with the purchase index dropping 4% to the lowest level since 1995. However, reports showed today that sales of new homes in the U.S. jumped to its highest level in around 5 years. New home sales soared 9.6% in January, notably beating forecasts that called for a drop of 3.4%. Corporate earnings Among earnings, Lowe's reported fiscal fourth quarter results that were broadly in line with market expectations, sending shares in the world`s second largest home improvement retailer up 2.20%. Target surged 3.72% after the retailer beat market expectations and said the December data breach shaved two cents a share off its earnings and impacted sales as well. CEO Gregg Steinhafel said however that sales trends have improved in recent weeks. Other stocks likely to be in focus included Baidu, Autodesk, L Brands and JCPenney, scheduled to report quarterly earnings after the closing bell.