- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NEW YORK | Better holiday sales and rising commodities prices pushed stocks to their sixth straight gain and new highs for 2009.

Major indexes edged higher in light trading Monday after sales figures showed shoppers spent more freely this holiday season, a sign that consumers are feeling better about the economy.

Meanwhile, commodities prices rose as the dollar fell, giving a boost to energy and materials stocks.

With fewer traders in the market due to the holidays, and without any bad news, analysts say stocks are likely to drift higher during the final days of 2009.

“What’s going to stop this is a question on a lot of people’s minds,” said Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Clover Investment Advisors. “And the answer so far is nothing.”

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 26.98, or 0.3 percent, to 10,547.08, its highest close since Oct. 1, 2008.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1.30, or 0.1 percent, to 1,127.78, and the Nasdaq composite index advanced 5.39, or 0.2 percent, to 2,291.08.

Bond prices came off their lows after an auction of $44 billion of two-year notes saw sufficient demand. Bond prices have been falling in recent weeks, pushing yields higher as stocks continue to advance amid improving economic data.

In total, the Treasury Department is issuing $118 billion of debt this week. Investors have worried this year that demand for government debt would wane amid the massive amounts of supply. But so far, most auctions have gone smoothly.

The yield on the previously auctioned 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.85 percent from 3.80 percent Thursday.

Stocks added to moderate gains from last week, when major indexes ended at new highs for the year after upbeat reports on unemployment and durable-goods orders.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is up 66.5 percent since hitting 12-year lows in March.

“2009 was a very kind year. Most industries, most stocks went up,” Mr. Creatura said. “In 2010, equities will have to earn their valuation.”

Commodities prices rose as the dollar fell. Commodities are priced in U.S. dollars, so when the greenback is weak they become more attractive to foreign buyers.

The ICE Futures U.S. dollar index, which measures the dollar against other major currencies, slipped 0.1 percent.

Oil prices gained 72 cents to settle at $78.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold also rose.

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