June 4, 2018 / 6:57 PM / 3 months ago

US STOCKS-Technology rally helps Wall Street push higher

* Apple climbs on developer conference hopes

* Microsoft gains after agreeing to buy GitHub for $7.5 bln

* Merck gains, Nektar plunges after latest cancer drug data

* Indexes gain: Dow 0.66 pct, S&P 0.41 pct, Nasdaq 0.57 pct (Updates to late afternoon, adds commentary, changes byline, adds New York dateline)

By Sinéad Carew

New York, June 4 (Reuters) - Technology stocks led the market higher on Monday as Apple and Microsoft boosted the sector after the iPhone maker kicked off its annual developers conference and the Windows software maker announced an acquisition.

Apple unveiled its latest operating system iOS 12 at the conference and even after paring some gains in the afternoon, for a 0.8 percent gain, it still provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 and helped take the Nasdaq close to its intraday record reached in mid-March.

The technology sector boost added to continued investor optimism after Friday's better-than expected jobs data, according to Kim Forrest, senior portfolio manager at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.

"On Fridays in the summer, there's not a lot of people behind the desk. These are investors that may not have been around to participate at the end of a holiday week," said Forrest.

Forrest also cited Apple's developer conference and Microsoft's $7.5 billion deal to buy privately held coding website GitHub Inc, which sent its shares up 0.6 percent to a record high.

"Microsoft started its life as a company that provided developer tools. This is the next generation of developer tools. It's good they were able to buy it," she said.

At 2:26 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 162.38 points, or 0.66 percent, to 24,797.59, the S&P 500 gained 11.14 points, or 0.41 percent, to 2,745.76 and the Nasdaq Composite added 43.22 points, or 0.57 percent, to 7,597.55.

The S&P technology index was up 0.9 percent. Seven of the 11 main S&P indexes were trading higher.

However the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index underperformed the broader market with a 1 percent decline as shares of cancer-focused companies moved after presentations at the ongoing American Society of Clinical Oncology's (ASCO) meeting.

Nektar Therapeutics slumped 43.3 percent and weighed on the Nasdaq biotech index after mixed results from its experimental cancer drug with Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo disappointed investors.

Bristol-Myers Squibb was 3.3 percent lower.

Merck, however, gained about 2.3 percent after latest data showed its cancer drug Keytruda improved survival as a stand-alone treatment for a type of lung cancer.

Boeing rose 0.9 percent, the biggest boost to the Dow, after the planemaker said it would partner with French aerospace firm Safran SA to make and service aircraft parts.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.58-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.28-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 44 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 204 new highs and 37 new lows. (Additional reporting by Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Chizu Nomiyama)

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