Better macro data helps US stocks to highs

US STOCKS rose for a fourth straight day yesterday, sending the Dow and the S&P 500 to new closing highs as positive data on the labour market and an encouraging retail outlook eased recent concerns about the economy.

Despite the S&P 500’s gain of 11.7 per cent this year, investors have fretted about the pace of recovery, especially after last Friday’s dramatically weak March payrolls report.

Jobless claims fell far more than expected in the latest week, dropping to the lower end of the range for the year. In another sign that the economy might be in better shape than some recent data had indicated, retail executives and analysts forecast improved same-store sales in April after mixed results in March.

Several of the S&P 500’s top percentage gainers were retailers. The SPDR S&P retail ETF jumped two per cent to end at a new closing high.

Still, the Nasdaq’s gains were limited as technology stocks sold off on an industry report showing shipments of personal computers had fallen significantly in the first quarter. The S&P information technology sector index slipped 0.5 per cent.

Hewlett-Packard slid 6.5 per cent to $20.88 as the S&P 500’s top percentage loser, followed by Microsoft, down 4.5 per cent at $28.94.

Both HP and Microsoft are Dow components, but the index saw plenty of strength from other members. Three of the blue-chip average’s five biggest gainers – Pfizer, Boeing and Home Depot – all hit new 52-week highs.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 62.90 points, or 0.42 per cent, to 14,865.14 at the close. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 5.64 points, or 0.36 per cent, to 1,593.37. The Nasdaq Composite Index edged up 2.90 points, or 0.09 per cent, to close at 3,300.16.