U.S. stocks rose in light trading volume on Wednesday, supported by data that pointed to stabilization in the labor and housing markets, areas that have fed concerns about a double dip recession.
Trading volume was among the lightest of the year one day before the Thanksgiving holiday, with many senior traders absent from trading floors. Even so, the Dow industrials and the S&P 500 edged to fresh 13-month highs.
Natural resource stocks got a lift from the weak dollar, which slumped to a 15-month low against a basket of currencies, partly because the better-than-expected data encouraged investors to look to assets with higher returns.
New claims for jobless benefits fell sharply in the latest week, while sales of new U.S. single-family homes rose in October to their highest level in a year.
Investors have been concerned that the sluggish performance of these areas could push the economy back into recession in a so-called double dip.
Fred Dickson, market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co. in Lake Oswego, Oregon, said the drop in weekly jobless claims and stronger home sales set a slightly better economic tone.
It's a little bit of a Thanksgiving lift on Main Street, he said. On a different day this week, we probably would have seen a big bounce in the market.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 30.69 points, or 0.29 percent, to end at 10,464.40. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 4.98 points, or 0.45 percent, to 1,110.63. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> advanced 6.87 points, or 0.32 percent, to close at 2,176.05.
U.S. financial markets will be closed on Thursday to mark Thanksgiving. On Friday, trading resumes, but the U.S. stock market will close early at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT).
Gold stocks were having a big day as the price of gold broke another record above $1,180 an ounce. U.S. gold miner Newmont Mining Corp
The Arca Gold Bugs index <.HUI>, which measures the performance of 15 gold miners with U.S.-listed stock, rose 2.8 percent. The index is up 190 percent since late October 2008.
The Dow Jones industrial metals and mining index <.DJUSIM> rose 2.2 percent as rising metal prices boosted miners' stocks.
Shares of energy companies rose as U.S. front-month oil futures climbed $1.94, or 2.6 percent, to settle at $77.96 per barrel. Marathon Oil Corp
On the earnings front, shares of Tiffany & Co
Deere & Co
The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index <.VIX>, or the VIX, a favorite barometer of investor sentiment, sank to its lowest level in 15 months, falling as low as 20.05 during the session. The VIX ended on Wednesday at 20.48, up just 0.05 percent.
Yet another government report showed U.S. consumer spending increased more than expected in October, while a final reading of consumer sentiment was revised up slightly in November, but was still down from October's reading, according to the Reuters/University of Michigan survey.
The positive economic data offset a report on new orders for U.S. durable goods, or long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods, which unexpectedly fell in October, weighing on stocks in early morning trading.
Volume was anemic on the New York Stock Exchange, where only about 795 million shares changed hands, far below last year's estimated daily average of 1.49 billion.
On the Nasdaq, about 1.41 billion shares traded, well below last year's daily average of 2.28 billion.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 2 to 1.
But on the Nasdaq, the opposite trend prevailed, with seven stocks falling for every six that rose.
(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Jan Paschal)