US stocks close at record highs; Nasdaq goes above 9,000

NEW YORK -- Retailers and technology companies powered stocks broadly higher on Wall Street Thursday, extending the market's record-setting run.

The Nasdaq composite climbed above 9,000 points for the first time as Apple led technology stocks higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 also climbed to new highs. The benchmark index is on course for its best year since 2013.

The latest gains came as investors welcomed a report showing that a last-minute surge in online shopping helped lift holiday sales. The data gave a boost to shares in and big department store chains such as Macy's and Nordstrom.

"That's just a confirmation that the consumer is incredibly strong and resilient and helping to power the economy to better numbers,” said Jeff Kravetz, regional investment director for U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

The S&P 500 rose 16.53 points, or 0.5%, to 3,239.91. The index, which had previously set a record high on Monday, has finished with a weekly gain in 10 out of the past 11 weeks.

The Dow gained 105.94 points, or 0.4%, to 28,621.39. The Nasdaq composite climbed 69.51 points, or 0.8%, to 9,022.39. The index, which is heavily weighted with tech stocks, is on an 11-day winning streak.

Smaller company stocks lagged the broader market, leaving the Russell 2000 index essentially flat. The index slipped 0.34 points, or less than 0.1%, to 1,677.67.

Bond prices were little changed. The 10-year Treasury yield held steady at 1.90%. The yield is a benchmark for the interest rates that lenders charge on mortgages and other consumer loans.

Trading volume was lighter than usual Thursday as U.S. markets reopened after the Christmas holiday.

The latest gains added to the market’s strong upward trajectory for 2019. The major indexes are on pace to close out the year on a strong note after moving mostly higher since early October. Fears about a possible recession have faded since the summer after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates three times, and the central bank appears set to keep them low for a long time.

A “Phase 1” trade deal announced earlier this month between the United States and China helped solidify investors’ optimism. The result has been a year-end market rally that has the 11 sectors in the S&P 500 on pace for solid-to-stellar gains.

Still, as traders turn their attention to 2020, fears about the outlook for the global economy remain, as do concerns over unresolved trade issues between Washington and Beijing. Next year also has the added complication of the U.S. presidential election.

“Trade will continue to be a factor that drives short-term market volatility,” Kravetz said. “But if you look at the other factors, the more fundamental economic factors — consumer and business sentiment — those are the ones which are really keeping investors in the game and more confident.”

The last five days of December and the first two in the new year have historically been a positive period for the market. Stocks have brought an average gain of 1.3% over that stretch since 1950, according to the Stock Trader's Almanac.

Technology stocks continued to lead the way Thursday. The sector, which is on pace for its best year since 2009, is up 48.3% so far this year, well above the other sectors in the S&P 500. Apple was the sector’s biggest gainer, climbing 2%.

Big retailers also rallied following a report from Mastercard SpendingPulse that shows holiday retail sales rose 3.4%, with online shopping rising 18.8%.

Amazon led the pack, climbing 4.5%, the biggest gainer in the S&P 500. Macy's rose 2.6%, Nordstrom added 1.8%, and Gap gained 1.6%

Health care stocks were the only decliners. Incyte fell 2.9%.

Other health sector stocks fared better. Immunomedics climbed 5.7% after the biopharmaceutical company said that the FDA accepted its application for accelerated approval of a breast-cancer therapy.

Benchmark U.S. crude gained 57 cents to settle at $61.68 per barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, picked up 72 cents to close at $67.92 per barrel.

The rise in oil prices helped lift some energy sector stocks. Diamondback Energy gained 1.3%.

Shares in mining companies rose along with the price of gold, which climbed $9.60 to $1,514.40 per ounce. Newmont Goldcorp added 1.2%, while Freeport-McMoRan gained 1.4%.

In other commodities trading, wholesale gasoline rose 3 cents to $1.75 per gallon. Heating oil climbed 2 cents to $2.05 per gallon. Natural gas jumped 12 cents, or 5.6%, to $2.29 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Silver rose 14 cents to $17.99 per ounce. Copper gained 2 cents to $2.85 per pound.

The dollar fell to 109.65 Japanese yen from 109.78 yen on Wednesday. The euro weakened to $1.1102 from $1.1314.

Markets in Europe, Hong Kong and Australia remained closed Thursday. Elsewhere in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index advanced 0.6% to 23,924.92, while the Kospi in South Korea gained 0.4% to 2,197.93. India's Sensex lost 0.3% to 41,339.87. In Southeast Asia, benchmarks were mixed, while Taiwan was flat.