US stocks rise again ahead of busy week of US data

The Nasdaq was the week`s star, vaulting 68.24 (1.71 percent) higher to 4,059.89.

AFP| Updated: Nov 30, 2013, 10:42 AM IST

New York: US stocks closed out a holiday-shortened week with additional gains as investors girded for a heavy calendar of economic news the first week of December.

Two of the three leading indices remain near all-time highs following the surge of 2013, while the third main benchmark, the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index, surpassed the 4,000 mark this week for the first time in 13 years.

The Nasdaq was the week`s star, vaulting 68.24 (1.71 percent) higher to 4,059.89.

Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 21.64 (0.13 percent) at 16,086.41, while the broad-based S&P 500 inched 1.05 (0.06 percent) higher to 4,059.89.

The week was fairly light on economic releases, with markets closed on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday and open only for half of Friday.

What data that was released continued to paint a mixed picture, with a disappointing October durable goods report suggesting weak business investment, while a decline in jobless benefits implied a better labor market.

Retail news dominated corporate headlines. On Monday, the world`s biggest retailer, Walmart, announced that Doug McMillon, 47, the head of the company`s international operations, would ascend to chief executive early next year.

The shift comes amid a generational shift at major retailers with the rising importance of online shopping and social media.

Walmart and other retailers also were at the forefront of the crucial holiday shopping season, which kicked off with "Black Friday," an annual day of promotions that has increasingly commenced on Thanksgiving itself and even earlier.

"Our Black Friday events were bigger, better, faster, cheaper and safer than ever," said outgoing Walmart chief executive Bill Simon in a statement.

"More customers chose us, we had the prices and products they were looking for, and we`re not finished yet."

With many consumers still stretched in the low-growth economy, Walmart and other retailers were preparing for an intensely competitive holiday shopping season replete with promotions.

Walmart and Target were among the retailers that called the Thursday kickoff of the shopping season a success. But analysts said it was too soon to know for sure how it would play out.

National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay predicted on CNBC that the 2013 holiday season would be "strong" in light of record-breaking crowds and heavy promotions. The NRF projects 3.9 percent growth over the 2012 level.

But Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy forecast that sales will grow at just three percent this season. He cited higher payroll taxes and concerns that the new health care law will result in higher costs.

"I think the low-middle income consumers are still facing a number of pressures," Hottovy said. "We do expect a slowdown."

The first hard data on the 2013 season will come with a weekly retail sales tracking from the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Next week also features several high-profile US economic reports, including construction spending, new home sales, the revised read on third-quarter gross domestic product and, above all, Friday`s jobs report.

"Next week is going to be a very, very critical week for the stock market," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.

The data could shed light on the US Federal Reserve`s timing over scaling back its bond-buying program.

"The reports suggest an economy that is making slow and steady progress," said Alan Skrainka, chief investment officer at Cornerstone Wealth Management.

"But it`s not going to be a gangbuster shopping season and it`s not going to be a robust rate of economic growth."