US stocks closed out a holiday-shortened week with additional gains as investors girded for a heavy calendar of economic news the first week of this month.
Two of the three leading indices remain near all-time highs following the surge this year, while the third main benchmark, the tech-rich NASDAQ Composite Index, surpassed the 4,000 mark this week for the first time in 13 years. The NASDAQ was the week’s star, vaulting 68.24 (1.71 percent) higher to 4,059.89.
Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 21.64 (0.13 percent) at 16,086.41, while the broad-based S&P 500 inched 1.05 (0.06 percent) higher to 1,805.81.
The week was fairly light on economic releases, with markets closed on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday and open only for half of Friday. What data that was released continued to paint a mixed picture, with a disappointing October durable goods report suggesting weak business investment, while a decline in jobless benefits implied a better labor market.
Retail news dominated corporate headlines. On Monday, the world’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, announced that Doug McMillon, 47, head of the company’s international operations, would ascend to chief executive early next year. The shift comes amid a generational shift at major retailers with the rising importance of online shopping and social media. Wal-Mart and other retailers were also at the forefront of the crucial holiday shopping season, which kicked off with “Black Friday,” an annual day of promotions that has increasingly commenced on Thanksgiving itself and even earlier.
“Our Black Friday events were bigger, better, faster, cheaper and safer than ever,” outgoing Wal-Mart chief executive Bill Simon said in a statement. “More customers chose us, we had the prices and products they were looking for, and we’re not finished yet.”
With many consumers still stretched in the low-growth economy, Wal-Mart and other retailers were preparing for an intensely competitive holiday shopping season replete with promotions.
Wal-Mart and Target were among the retailers that called the Thursday kickoff of the shopping season a success, but analysts said it was too soon to know for sure how it would play out.
National Retail Federation president Matthew Shay predicted on CNBC that this year’s holiday season would be “strong” in light of record-breaking crowds and heavy promotions.
The federation projects 3.9 percent growth over last year’s level.
However, Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy forecast that sales would grow by just 3 percent this season. He cited higher payroll taxes and concerns that the new healthcare law would result in higher costs.
“I think the low-middle income consumers are still facing a number of pressures,” Hottovy said. “We do expect a slowdown.”
The first hard data on the season will come with a weekly retail sales tracking from the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Next week also features several high-profile US economic reports, including construction spending, new home sales, the revised read on third-quarter GDP and, above all, Friday’s jobs report.
“Next week is going to be a very, very critical week for the stock market,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.
The data could shed light on the US Federal Reserve’s timing over scaling back its bond-buying program.