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Happy holidays for markets, which hit 2009 highs

The Helen Woodward Animal Center and Iams Home 4 the Holidays pet adoption campaign rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. Here, an orphaned puppy up for adoption gets some attention from Peter Elkins.

Associated Press

The Helen Woodward Animal Center and Iams Home 4 the Holidays pet adoption campaign rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. Here, an orphaned puppy up for adoption gets some attention from Peter Elkins.

NEW YORK — Stocks ended an extremely light, holiday-shortened session Thursday at highs for the year following upbeat reports on unemployment and durable goods orders.

A weaker dollar also helped buoy the market, lifting energy and materials stocks.

The encouraging signs of the labor market and consumer demand helped assuage investors who were disappointed the day before by an unexpected plunge in sales of new homes last month.

Stocks have managed to push higher in December on optimism about the economy, but at a more subdued pace than in recent months. As the year winds to a close, the Standard & Poor's 500 index up 66.5 percent since hitting 12-year lows in March.

This week's trading pattern reflected the market's recent cautious tone. On Monday, stocks shot higher as another wave of corporate dealmaking boosted investors' optimism. Two days later, shares barely budged after a disappointing report on housing.

"The news, on balance, is pretty good," said Uri Landesman, head of global growth at ING Investment Management. "The market continues to inch higher."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 53.66, or 0.5 percent, to 10,520.10. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.89, or 0.5 percent, to 1,126.48, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 16.05, or 0.7 percent, to 2,285.69.

Volume is likely to remain light next week, which also will be short. Outside of readings on home prices and consumer confidence, there will be few economic reports to drive trading.

The final days of the year are often good for stocks, though. Since 1950, the S&P 500 has advanced an average of 1.5 percent during the seven trading days that start with Christmas Eve and end with the first two days in January.

In industry news, health care stocks were little changed after landmark health care reform legislation cleared the Senate. Some analysts said the sector could have fared much worse.

"It's come off fairly toothless from what it could've been," Mitch Schlesinger, managing partner at FBB Capital Partners, said of the Senate's version of the health bill. He noted that many big health insurers are still trading near their highs for the year.

The ICE Futures U.S. dollar index, which measures the dollar against other currencies, fell 0.1 percent, and gold and oil prices climbed.

Commodities prices tend to rise when the dollar weakens because they become more attractive to foreign investors. A weaker dollar has helped keep the stock market churning higher in recent months.

Happy holidays for markets, which hit 2009 highs 12/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2009 7:12pm]

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