UPDATE 4:00 pm EST:
U.S. stocks soared Tuesday, with the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average smashing the psychologically important 18,000 milestone for the first time, after the U.S. economy grew at its quickest pace in more than a decade last quarter. The Dow hit a fresh intraday high and closed at a new record, marking the 36th time the Dow has closed at a new all-time high this year. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 Index closed at a new all-time high for the 51st time this year, breaking both its intraday and closing records previously set on Dec. 5.
The Dow, which measures the share prices of 30 large industrial companies, climbed 64.73 points, or 0.36 percent, to close at a record high of 18,024.17; the S&P 500 stock index, which tracks the share prices of the nation's 500 largest publicly traded companies, added 3.63 points, or 0.17 percent, to finish at a record high of 2,082.17. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite fell 16 points, or 0.33 percent, to 4,765.42.
It only took five months for the Dow to eclipse 18,000 after topping 17,000 in July. Just in the last few months the Dow has risen 2,000 points following October’s lows when the blue-chip Index plunged more than 350 points on Oct. 15 following multiple volatile trading sessions.
U.S. stocks continued to rally for the fifth straight session Tuesday after the U.S. Federal Reserve ended its final policy meeting last week, replacing the phrase "considerable time" in its policy statement with "patient," signaling the central bank could raise interest rates sometime next year. Since then, the Dow has jumped almost 1,000 points in the last 5 trading sessions, including Tuesday.
Interesting enough, the mood on the New York Stock Exchange floor was pretty subdued following the Dow's new milestone. “Guys down here are old professionals and while milestones like the Dow clipping above another 1,000 points, or the S&P 500 moving another 100, most of us down here kind of shrug it off,” Keith Bliss, senior vice president and director of sales and marketing at Cuttone & Co., said. “Of course, the doomsayers will say it is just further evidence of a bubble. But, bubble or not, you can't fight this tape and I believe it will keep going up,” Bliss said.
Going forward, analysts say it’s certainly possible for the Dow to reach 20,000. “I have two targets for the Dow in 2015 on the upside: 18,900 and then 20,000,” Mark Newton, chief technical analyst at Greywolf Execution Partners, said. “The Dow really is just a psychological level, and doesn’t have any real significance other than to the media.”
Data Tuesday showed consumer spending, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the U.S. economy, jumped to its largest gain in three months in November as falling gasoline prices has left more discretionary income in consumers’ pockets during the holiday shopping season. Consumer spending rose 0.6 percent last month while October was upwardly revised to a 0.3 percent increase, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, U.S. consumer sentiment jumped to its highest level in nearly eight years as cheaper gasoline prices boosted consumer optimism. Consumer sentiment rose to 93.6, its highest reading since January 2007, according to the University of Michigan's final December reading.
Consumer optimism has steadily picked up in the last few months as gasoline prices continue to fall. Global oil prices have declined over 46 percent in the last six months to $60.45 a barrel Tuesday, which has sent gasoline prices tumbling. The averages price of gas across the U.S. is currently $2.361 a gallon, according to Gasbuddy.com.
After global oil prices rebounded from five-year lows last week, crude prices edged higher Tuesday. West Texas Intermediate crude, the benchmark for U.S. oil prices, jumped 3.37 percent Tuesday to $57.32 per barrel, for Jan. 15 delivery, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Global benchmark Brent crude rose 2.94 percent Tuesday to $61.88 a barrel on the London ICE Futures Exchange.
Separate data on Tuesday painted a mixed picture on the U.S. housing market as sales of new single-family homes fell for a second straight month in November. Sales fell 1.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 438,000 units, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Last months figures declined 1.6 percent from October’s report, which was revised down to 445,000 units from 458,000 units.
The Dow hit 18,000 following the opening bell Tuesday, largely driven in part by stronger-than-expected data that revealed the U.S. economy grew at its fastest pace in 11 years. U.S. gross domestic product rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5 percent in the third quarter, Commerce Department said in its third and final estimate Tuesday. The figure beating economists’ expectations for the U.S. economy to grow at a 4.3 percent annual pace, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.
The revision was mainly due to the pace of consumption growth being revised up to 3.2 percent from 2.2 percent.
“The clear strengthening in activity towards the end of 2014 may prompt some Fed officials to consider whether they need to raise rates before the middle of 2015,” Paul Dales, senior economist at Capital Economics, said in a note Tuesday.
However, a separate report showed durable goods orders unexpectedly dropped $1.7 billion, or 0.7 percent, last month to $242.3 billion, which was the third decline in the past four months. Excluding volatile aircraft and defense orders, a key category that economists use as a gauge for business investment spending, remained unchanged from the previous month after the figure was revised down to a 1.9 percent drop in October.