Confidence in retail sector lifts Wall St

US stocks rose yesterday as better-than-expected monthly sales from retailers and a drop in the number of Americans filing claims for jobless benefits pointed to stabilisation in the economy.

The boost from February retail sales, which were expected to have been hurt by severe weather across the US, lifted retailers’ shares as the S&P retail index added 1.3 per cent.

Target, a retail bellwether, added 2.4 per cent to $52.94 after it said same-store sales rose 2.4 per cent for the month.

Initially trading was choppy, but stocks rallied in the last 15 minutes before the close in a sign traders were bullish ahead of the jobs data.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 47.38 points, or 0.46 per cent, to 10,444.14. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 4.18 points, or 0.37 per cent, to 1,122.97. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 11.63 points, or 0.51 per cent, to close at 2,292.31.

The S&P 500 is now down 2.4 per cent from a 15-month closing high set on 19 January, after falling more than eight per cent through 8 February.

The Russell 2,000 index of small-cap stocks closed at another 17-month high.

Of 28 retailers reporting sales, 76 per cent have topped analysts’ expectations.

Top gainers included Abercrombie & Fitch, whose shares rose 14.6 per cent to $41.52; fellow teen retailer Zumiez, up 10.1 per cent at $17.62, and Family Dollar Stores, up 8.1 per cent at $35.24 after the low-priced chain raised its quarterly earnings forecast.

Data from the housing market has been weak recently and the latest data weighed on home builders’ shares. The Dow Jones home construction index fell 0.9 per cent, with KB Homes down 0.9 per cent at $16.72.

Positive brokerage notes helped blue chips head higher, with Boeing, Walt Disney and Coca-Cola ranking among the Dow’s top gainers.

About 7.38bn shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, below last year’s estimated daily average of 9.65bn.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on both the NYSE and the Nasdaq by a ratio of nearly three to two.