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Stocks Hit New Highs

Stocks closed at fresh 2009 highs in Thursday's abbreviated session, lifted by positive reads on jobless claims and durable goods. The Street's Alix Steel (above) reports The Real Story.
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NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- Stocks finished the holiday-shortened Thursday session with fresh highs for the year, cheered by lively trading in tech stocks and upbeat jobs and durable goods data.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

improved 54 points, or 0.5%, to 10,520 today. The

S&P 500

rose 6 points, or 0.5%, to 1126, as

Nasdaq

added 16 points, or 0.7%, to 2286. It was the fifth straight positive session for the Dow.

The tech sector outpaced most others in session marked by light trading volumes. The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index added 1.6%, and bellwethers

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

,

Hewlett-Packard

(APQ)

and

Cisco Systems

(CSCO) - Get Report

advanced 1.1%, 0.7% and 0.8%, respectively.

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Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

stood out as the stock surged 3.4%, and hit an all-time high during the session, amid speculation that the company may unveil its long-rumored tablet pc in January.

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

,

Travelers

(TRV) - Get Report

and

United Technologies

were the biggest percentage gainers among the Dow's blue-chips.

Stocks were up for the majority of the session, driven by a pair of upbeat economic reports. Initial jobless claims data offered a positive surprise, as the Labor Department said first-time filers for unemployment benefits edged lower by 28,000 to a seasonally adjusted 452,000 last week. Analysts had forecast a lighter drop to 470,000 from 480,000 reported the week prior. The four-week moving average, which tends to smooth out week-to-week fluctuations, also declined by 2,750 to 465,250. Continuing claims fell by 127,000 to 5.08 million for the week ending Dec. 12.

Also, new orders for durable goods in November increased by 0.2% after posting a 0.6% dip in October. The cumulative mark was slightly below consensus forecasts for a 0.5% rise. But excluding transportation, the metric rose by 2%, which was well past an anticipated 1.1% gain.

"On balance, it's nice to see the claims and durable goods data exceed expectations on the heels of yesterday's new home sales data," John Canally, economist at LPL Financial, wrote in an e-mail. "Historically, claims in the 450k to 475k range suggest some very modest job growth. There is a small chance that we could see positive job growth in December, but the data today suggests that we remain on track to create jobs by the first few months of 2010."

Weaker support from the greenback sent commodities higher today. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies, with the Dollar Index recently down 0.1%.

The February delivery contract for crude oil recently added 77 cents to $77.44 a barrel, a day after the price surged on news of a steeper-than-expected drawdown in crude and gasoline inventories.

The February gold contract settled at $1,104.80 an ounce after adding $10.80.

U.S. bond prices retreated on the positive data, as benchmark 10-year Treasury notes were trading 13/32 lower, boosting the yield to 3.803%. Two-year notes were 3/32 lower to yield 0.968%.

Elsewhere, the Senate passed legislation that will usher in a sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system, with Senators convening early this morning to cast the final 60-39 vote. After getting past several procedural hurdles this week, the vote was assured, given the Democrat majority. The bill now needs to be reconciled with the House version before becoming law.

Overseas, Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.9%, and Japan's Nikkei gained 1.5%. The FTSE in London improved 0.6%, while the DAX in Frankfurt was closed.

U.S. markets will be closed all day Friday for the Christmas holiday.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York