US stocks closed out another week of new record highs on Friday, as investors focused on the positive side of mixed economic news and corporate earnings.
Retail sales barely budged higher last year and jobless claims rose, but permits to build housing soared and consumer inflation remained tame, data showed.
A pair of better-than-expected reports on Friday — on consumer confidence and the economic outlook — drove a rally that pushed the Dow and S&P 500 to end-of-the-week all-time highs for the third straight week.
Over the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 235.91 points (1.56 percent) to finish at 15,354.40.
The tech-rich NASDAQ Composite Index increased 62.39 points (1.82 percent) to 3,498.97, and the broad-based S&P 500 jumped 32.42 points (1.98 percent) to 1,666.12.
“The bulls did their thing again this week, overcoming any concerns about the Fed tapering its asset purchases soon,” Briefing.com analysts said.
Wall Street is closely watching economic data to gauge when the US Federal Reserve will begin exiting its massive bond-buying program that is supporting growth.
Economic data continued to suggest weak growth, or “a half-speed recovery,” Standard & Poor’s chief investment officer Sam Stovall said.
Friday’s data capped the week with a positive note. The University of Michigan’s index of consumer sentiment reading for this month jumped to the highest level since July 2007, and the Conference Board’s leading economic index rebounded last month from a dip in March. The reading pointed to “a continuing economic expansion with some upside potential,” the research firm said.
In corporate news, Wal-Mart reported weaker-than-expected fiscal first-quarter earnings and said comparable sales at its US stores fell 1.4 percent from a year earlier.
The world’s largest retailer said the drop in US revenue came as consumers felt the pinch from the higher payroll sales tax, among other factors.
“We are definitely slow growth and we don’t see where it’s going to pick up,” said Bud Kasper, a certified financial planner at Barber Financial Group.
For some, the silver lining in such a lackluster economic performance is that it means the Fed was likely to continue with its aggressive bond-buying program.
However, Anthony Conroy, a trader at BNY Convergex Group, said the market was beginning to prepare for the Fed to curtail the program.
“The market believes we’re getting close to the end of the Fed’s help and that they’ve done enough for right now and we can sustain ourselves,” Conroy said.
He predicted the Fed would not immediately scale back the program, owing to the continued weakness in the economy.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to testify before the US Congress on Wednesday, the same day the Fed will release the minutes from its last policy meeting early this month.
Next week’s economic calendar features data on durable goods orders and sales of existing and new homes.
On the earnings front will be reports from home-improvement retailer Home Depot on Tuesday, and Staples and Hewlett-Packard on Wednesday.