COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

Stocks advance to record as jobless claims decline

Investors returned from the Christmas holiday and pushed stock prices to record levels.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 122.33 points to 16,479.88, making 50 times that the index has closed at a record high in 2013. The Nasdaq composite index added 11.76 points to 4,167.18 and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 8.70 points to 1,842.02, another record high.

The markets got a boost when the Department of Labor reported initial claims for the jobless benefits fell by 42,000 in the past week to 338,000, the biggest single-week decline in 13 months.

Commodities moved higher. Gold rose $9 to $1,212.30 an ounce. Oil gained 33 cents to $99.22 a barrel.

Tesla Inc. (Nasdaq: TSLA) gained 2.7 percent on a report that the maker of electric cars will focus on opening more showrooms in China next year. Twitter Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) jumped 4.8 percent, increasing for a fifth straight day. EBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY) fell 2 percent as data showed a slowdown in sales.

About 3.8 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, 38 percent below the three-month average. U.S. markets were closed Wednesday for the Christmas holiday.

“The stock market is energized by the stronger macro trends that we’re seeing,” said Jim Russell, who helps oversee $112 billion as a senior equity strategist for U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “The fundamentals are filling in for a market that has been primarily Fed-driven. We think that is a healthy and sustainable development that has some momentum into 2014.”

U.S. benchmark indexes reached all-time highs in a shortened session Tuesday as data on durable goods and new-home sales beat forecasts. The S&P 500 has gained 29 percent in 2013, poised for its biggest annual jump since 1997.

Jobless claims declined by 42,000 to 338,000 in the week ended Dec. 21, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The median forecast of 42 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a drop to 345,000. Continuing claims rose.

The year-end holidays make it difficult to adjust for fluctuations in applications for jobless benefits, a Labor Department official said as the figures were released.

The Federal Reserve, which has made employment creation a determinant factor of its monetary stimulus, said on Dec.18 that it will reduce the pace of bond buying amid faster-than-estimated economic growth.

Three rounds of stimulus have sent the S&P 500 up 172 percent from a 12-year low in 2009.

“We are still seeing a bit of window dressing,” said Stephane Ekolo, a strategist at Market Securities in London. “The U.S. is doing better, the recovery is there. We’ve been playing the tapering news for some time, but the market has come to terms with the fact that it is a minor withdrawal of stimulus, and that in any case it means the economy is doing better. It is a good sign.”

U.S. equities also gained as Japan’s Topix (TPX) index closed at its highest level since 2008 on speculation that the central bank will press ahead with stimulus.

The gauge has rallied 49 percent this year, the most among 24 major developed markets tracked by Bloomberg, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Bank of Japan took steps to end 15 years of deflation.

Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) rallied 1.7 percent to $100.90 for the biggest increase in the Dow.

Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) advanced 1.1 percent to $138.27 and United Technologies Corp. rose 1.1 percent to $112.69.

Tesla gained 2.7 percent to $155.50. The maker of electric cars will focus on opening more showrooms in China next year, and hundreds of vehicles have been ordered since Tesla opened a Beijing location in November, according to a China Daily report.

Twitter jumped 4.8 percent to a record $73.31. The microblogging service that held its initial public offering last month extended its five-day gain to 32 percent amid optimism that the company has room to expand sales in digital advertising.

EBay (EBAY) slid 2 percent to $54.06 for the steepest loss in the S&P 500. EBay sales increased 9.6 percent in the period from Thanksgiving through Dec. 22 compared with the previous year, ChannelAdvisor (NYSE: ECOM) reported.

That’s slower than the 21 percent increase from Thanksgiving through Dec. 15, according to the report.

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