Stocks showed a lack of direction throughout much of the trading session on Thursday before moving to the upside going into the close. With the late-day advance, the Dow and the S&P 500 reached new record closing highs.
The major averages all closed in positive territory, although the Nasdaq posted a more modest gain, inching up 18.28 points or 0.1 percent to 12,888.28. The Dow advanced 196.92 points or 0.7 percent to 30,606.48 and the S&P 500 climbed 24.03 points or 0.6 percent to 3,756.07.
The late-day strength on Wall Street may have reflected window dressing, as traders looked to give their portfolio a boost going into the end of the year.
Traders seemed reluctant to make significant moves for much of the session, with some likely looking to get a head start on New Year’s Eve celebrations.
The gains on the day capped off a strong year for U.S. stocks, which moved sharply higher for 2020 despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
For the year, the Dow jumped by 7.3 percent and the S&P 500 surged up by 16.3 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq skyrocketed 43.6 percent.
The substantial gain by the Nasdaq came as tech stocks benefited from the stay-at-home orders issued in response to the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Most other sectors also recovered from the sell-off seen as lockdowns were imposed, with optimism about a swift economic rebound driving the markets higher even as the death toll spikes.
On the economic front, the Labor Department released a report unexpectedly showing a modest drop in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the week ended December 26th.
The Labor Department said initial jobless claims edged down to 787,000, a decrease of 19,000 from the previous week’s revised level of 806,000.
The dip surprised economists, who had expected jobless claims to rise to 833,000 from the 803,000 originally reported for the previous month.
“We think that holiday noise and uncertainty about extensions of benefits may have held down claims last week,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, Lead U.S. Economist at Oxford Economics.
She added, “The risk is for a rise in claims in the weeks ahead now that emergency programs have been extended and an additional $300 in weekly benefits is being provided.”
Computer hardware stocks showed a significant move to the upside on the day, driving the NYSE Arca Computer Hardware Index up by 1.7 percent.
Considerable strength also emerged among utilities stocks, as reflected by the 1.7 percent gain posted by the Dow Jones Utilities Average.
Banking, commercial real estate and healthcare stocks also moved notably higher over the course of the trading session.
Meanwhile, gold stocks showed a substantial move to the downside, dragging the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index down by 2.1 percent.
The weakness among gold stocks came despite a modest increase by the price of the precious metal, as gold for February delivery inched up $1.70 to $1,895.10 an ounce.
In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region turned in another performance on Thursday, with several markets closed for New Year’s Eve. China’s Shanghai Composite Index surged up by 1.7 percent, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index tumbled by 1.4 percent.
Meanwhile, the major European markets moved sharply lower in an abbreviated session, with the German markets closed on the day. While the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index plunged by 1.5 percent, the French CAC 40 Index slumped by 0.9 percent.
In the bond market, treasuries moved slightly higher, extending the uptick seen in the previous session. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, edged down by nearly a basis point at 0.917 percent.
Following another holiday weekend, economic data may attract attention next week, with traders likely to keep an eye on the monthly jobs data along with reports on manufacturing and service sector activity.
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