Dec 23, 2011

Don't call it a comeback just yet, but investors brought holiday cheer to the stock markets pushing the S&P 500 back into positive territory for 2011 and the Dow up 6% for the year.

On a light trading day ahead of the holiday weekend, investors scooped up stocks after economic reports released Friday morning continue to provide glimmers of hope for the U.S. economy with better-than-expected readings on personal spending, income and housing released Friday morning.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added 124 points, or 1% Friday. The index is up 3.6% for the week and 6.1% for year.

The S&P 500 (SPX) rose 11 points, or 0.9% Friday, adding 3.7 for the week and 0.6% for the year. The Nasdaq (COMP) moved 19 points higher, or 0.7%, and despite moving up 2.7% this week, it's still down 1.3% this year.

"The overall message coming through is that there are tentative signs of stability coming into housing and construction and the economy overall," said Robert Tipp, chief investment strategist at Prudential Fixed Income.

Still, with light volume and limited data, stock market watchers says it's quiet on trading floors.
What the payroll tax deal would do

"We don't anticipate any big action today," said Joe Bell, senior equity analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "We won't have much data, and the volumes will be low."

Investors are watching yields on Italian 10-year bonds, which have moved up into the danger zone of 7%. Despite that, European markets closed the day up.

On Thursday, stocks finished a quiet session higher, after a stronger-than-expected reading on unemployment boosted investor optimism.

The government reported that the number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits dropped to its lowest level since April 2008. There were 364,000 initial jobless claims last week, 4,000 fewer than the week prior.

Investors got more good news after Thursday's market close, as House Speaker John Boehner said that he would accept a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, a move that ensures taxes will not increase on Jan. 1, 2012.

The source of much angst on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, economists viewed the scheduled tax increase as a significant potential drag on the economy in the first quarter of next year.

World markets: European stocks closed higher. Britain's FTSE 100 (UKX) ticked up 1%, the DAX (DAX) in Germany added 0.5% and France's CAC 40 (CAC40) gained 1%.

Asian markets ended higher, with Tokyo closed for holiday. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) rose 0.9% and the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong jumped 1.4%.

Economy: Before the opening bell, the Commerce Department reported durable goods rose 3.8% in November. Economists surveyed by had expected durable goods to rise 2.0%.

Both personal income and personal spending rose 0.1% in November.

A Commerce Department report on new home sales showed that new home construction rose 1.6% in November compared to 1.3% in October. The figure beat expectations but still shows a relatively sluggish pace of growth in the housing sector.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar lost strength against the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen.

Oil for February delivery rose 28 cents to $99.81 a barrel.

Gold futures for February delivery fell $1.60 to $1,606.00 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury fell, pushing the yield up to 2.03% from 1.95% Thursday.
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