NEW YORK – Wall Street rallied as stock investors put aside worries about swirling global problems on Wednesday, turning to improvement in the labor market and signs consumers are ready to open their wallets ahead of the biggest shopping day of the year.
New claims for unemployment benefits hit their lowest level in more than two years last week while consumer spending rose for a fourth straight month in October, suggesting the economy is nearing a self-sustaining recovery.
The data boosted enthusiasm in the consumer sector, which has outperformed all year, as Black Friday, a key date for retailers and the traditional kickoff to the year-end shopping season, approached.
Online retailer Amazon.com (AMZN.O) rose 5.4 percent to close at an all-time high of $177.25. The S&P consumer discretionary index (.GSPD), which gained 2 percent for the day, has climbed 22.5 percent year-to-date and is the best-performing of the S&P 500's top 10 sectors in that period.
"Consumer spending is continuing to improve. Even the unemployment situation, which everyone knows is very bad, is slowly, but surely improving," said Bryant Evans, the Champaign, Illinois-based portfolio manager at Cozad Asset Management. He is "overweight" the consumer discretionary sector.
Upscale jeweler Tiffany & Co (TIF.N) posted quarterly profit and sales that handily beat estimates and forecast strong holiday sales. Its stock shot up 5.3 percent to $61.33.
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) jumped 150.91 points, or 1.37 percent, to 11,187.28. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) rose 17.62 points, or 1.49 percent, to 1,198.35. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC) gained 48.17 points, or 1.93 percent, to 2,543.12.
The S&P 500 closed in on 1,200 for the fourth time in five sessions. The benchmark seems to be in a tight range between 1,175 and 1,200, without strong catalysts to break the trend in either direction.
"We're entering a period with a lot of days of very weak volume," said Manny Weintraub, president of Integre Advisors in New York.
"There's no earnings, you got pre-announcements possibly coming, but otherwise there's nothing really to knock (the market) down or push it forward either."
Airline stocks were among the top performers, with AMR Corp (AMR.N), parent of American Airlines, up 8.1 percent at $8.70.
The ARCA airline index (.XAL) surged 3.7 percent, its largest daily percentage gain in more than a month.
In other readings on the economy, data showed new durable goods orders registered their largest drop in nearly two years and sales of new U.S. single-family homes fell unexpectedly in October. But a private survey of U.S. consumer sentiment rose in November to its highest level since June.
Advancing stocks beat decliners by a ratio of almost 5 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, and by about 15-to-4 on the Nasdaq, but volume was light, with many participants out ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday.
About 6.1 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, below the year-to-date average of 8.67 billion.