US stocks racked up their sixth straight weekly gain despite a thin diet of news and low market volume, with the Dow hitting its best level since the end of 2007 and the S&P 500 just shy of its four-year peak.
Some solid earnings from retailers — Walmart aside — and economic data that was, if not full of spark, notably not negative, helped drive up prices.
Apple also gave the NASDAQ a solid pull by setting its all-time high closing price at US$648.11. That pushed the value of the world’s largest company by market capitalization to US$607.5 billion.
The Dow Jones Industrial Index ended 0.51 percent higher for the week at 13,275.20. The broader S&P 500 picked up 0.87 percent to 1,418.16, while the NASDAQ gained 1.84 percent to close at 3,076.59.
The rise came as a raft of economic releases for the July-August period failed to give any clarity as to the direction of the US economy.
Consumer prices were flat, jobless claims unchanged, some manufacturing indicators were lower, but retail sales improved. And the message of consumer sentiment numbers was mixed.
However, none of it was starkly negative and data on housing construction was fairly positive, adding to the growing hopes that the sector has bottomed out.
The picture was “slow but steady economic growth,” said Wells Fargo Securities, which is likely to keep the US Federal Reserve on the sidelines for the near term, not adding any new stimulus to the economy.
Consumer goods businesses did well during the week, with the index adding 2.5 percent, helped by strong results from clothing retailers like Gap.
However, retail stores as a group sank 1.6 percent after giant Walmart said its core customers were feeling continued pressures from the slow economy and the weak jobs market.
While Apple struck its all-time high — driven by reports that its newest iPhone model and a smaller iPad version were soon to come to market — the would-be tech star of the year, Facebook, plunged to a new low of nearly half its May 18 initial public offering price (IPO).
After the lock-down period for pre-IPO investors ended on Thursday, heavy selling sent the shares lower to close on Friday at US$19.07, down 12.6 percent for the week.
“There is no upturn in growth anywhere that suggests the paltry 3 percent second quarter revenue increase for the S&P 500 will pick up soon,” Dick Green of Briefing.com said.
“Earnings are expected to be down in the third quarter, and without a revenue acceleration, fourth-quarter earnings are likely to massively disappoint Wall Street’s unrealistic 10 percent current forecast,” he said.
“We think there is a good chance that investors reassess their current enthusiasm over the next couple months as headlines out of Europe and fiscal cliff worries here at home temporarily take a little steam out of the market,” Scott Wren of Wells Fargo Advisors said.
Next week, eyes will turn back to the eurozone, as Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras meets his French and German counterparts over more lenience in Athens’ reform program.
Key data releases next week include sales of existing homes last month on Wednesday and new homes on Thursday; and orders for durable goods on Friday. Also coming is the release on Wednesday of the minutes from the Fed’s policy board’s meeting on July 31 to Aug. 1, which might give clues on the central bank’s thinking.