* Factory orders increase in July, Beige Book on tap
* Automakers post string August sales
* Indexes: Dow up 0.34 pct, S&P 500 up 0.17 pct, Nasdaq off 0.1 pct (Updates to market open; adds quote)
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Sept 3 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 touching a new record high on optimism a resolution would be reached between Ukraine and Russia and data showing manufacturing activity continues to strengthen.
Ukraine said its president had agreed with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on steps towards a “ceasefire regime” in Kiev’s conflict with pro-Russian rebels, but the Kremlin denied any actual deal, prompting confusion on the eve of a NATO summit.
Putin later said his views and those of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko were “very close” on finding a political solution to a conflict in eastern Ukraine and that a deal between Kiev and the rebels could be reached by Friday.
Data continued to point to an improving U.S. economy. New orders for manufactured goods increased a record 10.5 percent in July. June’s orders were revised to show a 1.5 percent increase instead of the previously reported 1.1 percent rise.
“We’ve got a market that has been able to focus on fundamentals and to a certain extent put some of the geopolitical concerns on the back burner,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.
“Now that some of those geopolitical concerns may well be decreasing, an increase in focus on fundamentals might even be constructive here.”
August auto sales were unexpectedly strong, led by Ford Motor Co, Chrysler Group and Nissan Motor Co, which easily beat analysts’ estimates as the industry is seen reaching volumes not seen since before the recession. Ford shares edged up 0.1 percent to $17.62 while General Motors slipped 0.4 percent to $34.66.
At 2:00 p.m. (1800 GMT), the Federal Reserve will release its Beige Book of economic activity across the nation.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 58.73 points or 0.34 percent, to 17,126.29, the S&P 500 gained 3.44 points or 0.17 percent, to 2,005.72 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 4.72 points or 0.1 percent, to 4,593.47.
The benchmark S&P index reached a record intraday high of 2,009.28, while the Dow moved within two points of a new record.
Russia’s dollar-denominated RTS index jumped 5.5 percent while the rouble-based MICEX index gained 3.7 percent. The rouble rose 1.7 percent against the dollar to 36.80.
Housing stocks were a weak spot, weighed down by a 2.8 percent decline in Toll Brothers to $34.67 after the largest U.S. luxury homebuilder posted quarterly results. The PHLX housing index fell 0.8 percent. (Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)