NEW YORK (TheStreet) --The S&P 500 inched to another record high Wednesday after the release of the Federal Reserve's Beige Book showed the economy is still gaining strength.
"National economic activity continued to expand in October and November," the Fed said in its survey, which provides anecdotal insight into the 12 regional banks which compose the central body.
Consumer spending was also stronger in most regions with retailers optimistic for the holiday season. "Some contacts viewed lower gasoline prices as a contributing factor to higher consumer spending, and an early cold spell helped spur sales of winter apparel in several Districts," the Fed said.
Overall wage and price growth remains "subdued," the Beige Book said. Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama committed to working with CEOs to address "tricky questions" on wage growth. Addressing a Business Roundtable in Washington, Obama said while he was confident in the overall economy he was concerned wealth was not trickling down to every American.
Hourly compensation growth was given a 1% haircut in November, while unit labor costs slipped 1% rather than increasing an estimated 0.3%, according to the Labor Department Wednesday. Monthly jobs figures will be released Friday with economists expecting 230,000 jobs to have been added over November. The unemployment rate is forecast to remain at 5.8%.
The S&P 500 rallied to a new record close of 2,074.2, up 0.37%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.17% to notch another record high, its second in as many days. The Nasdaq added 0.39%.
Energy stocks led gainers and shook off recent tumbling commodity prices. Among the leaders, Halliburton (HAL added 1.5%, Cinamerx Energy (XEC topped 5.1%, BP (BP gained 1.5% and Schlumberger (SLB spiked 1.8%. The Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE was up 1.2%.
"The debate is whether the commodity price bottomed out," said U.S. Bank Wealth Management's Eric Wiegand in a call. "Investors are searching for opportunities right now. There's a general view that the markets are somewhat fully valued so an opportunity to get something that has not participated is appealing."
Crude oil was rising 0.76% on Wednesday after tanking nearly 3% on Tuesday. West Texas Intermediate crude has settled at $67.39 a barrel, around 37% lower than its mid-summer high. Crude prices have been squeezed after OPEC declined to constrain production last week despite global oversupply and slowing growth in the eurozone and China.
Stocks have been grinding higher this week ahead of the European Central Bank's meeting Thursday. Economists hope ECB President Mario Draghi and colleagues will decide to purchase government bonds in its next round of stimulus measures after it began to buy asset-backed securities late November.
Among individual stock movers, Bob Evans (BOBE slid 14.6% after KeyBanc analysts slashed its rating to "underweight" following disappointing second-quarter revenue. G-III Apparel (GIII was climbing 14.8% after reporting a 21% jump in revenue over its third quarter and increasing its full-year sales guidance.
Diagnostics companies Illumina (ILMN and Sequenom (SQNM were gaining after settling all patent infringement claims against one another. Illumina added 1.6%, while smaller rival Sequenom surged 23.3%. Puma Biotechnology (PBYI tanked 12.2% after it said it would delay filing its experimental breast cancer drug for Food and Drug Administration approval by as much as 12 months.
J.C. Penney (JCP was knocked by a downgrade to "sell" from Goldman Sachs. Analysts said the retailer showed slowing comparable same-store sales and anemic e-commerce growth. Shares fell 2.7%.
--Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.