The S&P 500 wavered near a seven-week high on low volume on Wednesday as investors refrained from making big bets before the start of earnings season next week provides the next catalyst for stocks.

Signs of a strengthening economy plus merger and acquisition activity have pushed the S&P 500 close to 1,344, the highest level since June 2008. A meaningful breach of that level could lead to a stocks breakout, pushing prices higher.

There is really no significant news that is going to drive stocks until earnings comes out, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank in Chicago.

Next week it kicks off and that to me is a wild card. Costs have gone up and analysts continue to ratchet profit expectations higher.

Stocks got another lift from the president of the Atlanta Fed, Dennis Lockhart, who said the Fed will complete its $600 billion bond-buying plan as scheduled at the end of June. He said he does not see any reason to cut the program short.

The Dow industrials hit their highest intraday level since 2008 but gains were capped in what was set to be another low volume day.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> added 9.95 points, or 0.08 percent, to 12,403.85. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> inched down 0.91 of a point, or 0.07 percent, to 1,331.72. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> dipped 1.14 points, or 0.04 percent, to 2,790.05.

The percentage of U.S. stock market bulls rose to the highest level in nearly four months as equities continue to recover from their recent fall, according to a weekly survey of advisers by Investors Intelligence.

Bullish advisers rose to 57.3 percent in the latest week, compared with 51.6 percent in the previous week and a recent low of 50.6 percent just before that. The reading was the highest since the middle of December, when it hit 58.8 percent.

Miners' shares rose as the price of spot gold rallied to a record high of $1,461.91 an ounce against a backdrop of a weaker U.S. dollar and investors' worries about inflation and unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. Silver touched a fresh 31-year peak of $39.75 an ounce.

Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold gained 0.8 percent to $57.06. Gold for June delivery rallied to a record high at $1,467 an ounce.

Broadcom Corp shares gained 3.5 percent to $39.80 after Oppenheimer raised its rating on the chipmaker's stock and set a price target of $55.

In earnings news, global agribusiness Monsanto Co. said net income jumped about 15 percent in the second quarter on strong sales of corn seed for spring planting and improved profit margins.

But its stock fell 4.1 percent to $70.28 as some analysts expressed irritation the company did not raise full-year guidance.

Purchases of major items sent German industrial orders soaring above expectations in February, data showed on Wednesday, in a further sign Europe's largest economy was outshining its neighbors.

(Reporting by Ed Krudy; Editing by Jan Paschal)