Stocks End a Short Week With a Whimper


A holiday-shortened trading week came to a quiet end on the Thursday before Christmas as stocks closed mostly lower on especially light volume.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) rose 14 points, or 0.1%, to close at 11,573. But the broader S&P 500 ($INX) fell 2 points, or 0.2%, to settle at 1,257, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite ($COMPX) dropped 6 points, or 0.2%, to finish at 2,666.

The major averages all managed to post weekly gains even as Thursday's economic data were mixed to disappointing.

Consumer sentiment rose again this month to its highest level since June, as Americans sensed that the job market is starting to improve, but the reading still missed economists' average forecast.

Ups and Downs

December consumer sentiment came in at 74.5, up from 71.6 in November, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey, while economists, on average, were looking for a reading of 75, according to a survey by Bloomberg. The current conditions component rose to 85.3 in December from 82.1 in November, while the consumer expectations component rose as well, to 67.5 in December from 64.8 in November.

In more evidence that the job market is slowly healing, the number of people applying for unemployment benefits dropped slightly last week. Thursday's initial jobless claims fell by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 420,000, the Labor Department said. That was a bit better than economists' forecast for claims to come in a 421,000.

However, durable-goods orders fell a greater-than-expected 1.3% in November, the Commerce Department said, weighed down by a 53% plunge in orders for commercial airplanes. Economists were looking for a drop of just 0.5%.

Disappointments and Bright Spots

Personal income for November, on the other hand, came in better than Wall Street forecast, rising 0.3% vs. a 0.2% outlook, but personal spending came up short, increasing 0.4% when Wall Street forecast a 0.5% gain.

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New-home sales disappointed on Thursday, too. Sales rose 5.5% to a 290,000-unit annual rate in November. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg were looking for the annual rate to hit 300,000. There were two bright spots in November's report, however. The year-over-year decline in new home sales narrowed and inventory dropped to an 8.2-month supply at the current sales pace in November, down from 8.6 months in October.

Oil broke through the $90-a-barrel level Thursday, gaining 95 cents to $91.43 on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange (CME). Comex gold slipped $8 to $1,380 an ounce. Still, when it was all over, the equity markets managed to pull off their fourth consecutive weekly increase. Merry Christmas, indeed.