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A gradual climb in afternoon trade took the S&P 500 to a fresh two-year high and the Nasdaq Composite to its best close in three years. The Dow failed to eclipse its November high, however.
Stocks started the session rather sluggishly, but saw some knee-jerk buying on the back of the best Consumer Sentiment Survey in six months. The preliminary reading for December came in at 74.2, which compares favorably to the 72.5 that had been expected, on average, among economists polled by Briefing.com.
Participants were less enthusiastic about premarket news that the October trade deficit came in at $38.7 billion, which is less than the $44.5 billion deficit that had been widely expected to follow the $44.6 billion deficit recorded for the prior month, although the combination of higher exports and lower imports should provide a boost to fourth quarter GDP.
There was also news ahead of the open that China's central bank hiked its reserve requirement by another 50 basis points. That has not quelled speculation about actual interest rate hike, however.
Stocks spent most of the morning trading listlessly with slim gains, but buyers began to show more conviction right around the time that General Electric (GE 17.72, +0.59) announced that it has hiked its dividend to $0.14 from $0.12 per share. GE's announcement made it a leader among industrial stocks, which collectively gained 1.0% gain, more than any other sector. Even United Technologies (UTX 78.40, +0.77) caught a bid, despite a disappointing earnings outlook.
Health care stocks were close behind; they advanced 0.9%. Tenet Healthcare (THC 6.65, +2.36) was a top performer in both the health care sector and the broader market after Community Health Systems (CYH 35.89, +4.25) offered to acquire it for $6.00 per share in cash and stock.
Financials also finished 0.9% higher. Strength in the sector formed slowly -- the sector had actually lagged in the first half of the session.
Broad-based support drove the S&P 500 to its best level in 26 months, but there was not enough momentum to take the benchmark index beyond the 1240 line. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite encountered little resistance, but the Dow continued to lag as it failed to extend above the levels it set this last November.
Still, it was a solid week for the stock market. It advanced in each of the past four sessions, including a fractional gain earlier this week. The result is a 1.3% weekly gain.
Outside of stocks, the dollar had a relatively quiet day. It made modest gains throughout the session, but ultimately settled near the neutral line. It gained 0.9% for the week.
Overall losses in the commodity complex left the CRB Commodity Index to slide 0.4%, which fed into a 0.4% weekly loss.
Treasuries retreated. Pressure was varied, though, as the benchmark 10-year Note dropped almost a full point and the 30-year Bond fell about 18 ticks. Their yields settled at about 3.32% and 4.43%, respectively. For the week, the yield on the 10-year ended the week higher by little more than 30 basis points and near six-month highs. The 30-year yield added only about a dozen basis points for the week.
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