US stocks end mostly higher as gains extend into 4th week; Virgin America soars in debut

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Stocks ended mostly higher on Friday as major indexes extended gains for a fourth week in a row, a rare stretch for this year.

After flitting between tiny gains and losses for most of the day, the Standard and Poor’s 500 index rose just two-hundredths of one per cent to close at a record high. The Dow Jones industrial average ended slightly lower, but the losses were limited by a gain in energy shares, which have been falling sharply in recent months as oil prices drop.

As of Friday, the S&P 500 is up 10 per cent so far this year.

“The market has continued to surprise me with its strength,” said Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners, an investment fund in New York. “It’s been almost a six-year party … and it takes a lot to upset that momentum.”

The S&P 500 rose 0.49 points to 2,039.82. The Dow slipped 18.05 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 17,634.74. The Nasdaq composite rose 8.4 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4,688.54.

Stocks have been mostly rising since Oct. 15, when the S&P 500 nearly fell into a “correction,” a trading term for a drop of 10 per cent or more from a recent peak. Generally strong corporate earnings results and solid U.S. economic data have lifted shares sharply since then.

On Friday, investors got more good economic news. The Commerce Department reported that retail sales rose 0.3 per cent in October after a drop in September. The reversal, though modest, was interpreted by some market experts as evidence that recent job gains and lower gas prices are lifting spirits as the holiday shopping season begins.

“American consumers are starting to spend again,” said John Manley, chief stock strategist at Wells Fargo Funds, which manages $250 billion. “More people are working … and that makes us a little freer at the cash registers.”

Six of the S&P 500 index’s 10 industry sectors rose for day, led by an 0.8 per cent gain in energy shares. Energy stocks had fallen 10 per cent in three months as the price of crude plummeted to a four-year low.

Among the highlights of the day, Virgin America, an airline backed by billionaire Richard Branson, soared 30 per cent in its initial public offering.

For the week, the S&P 500 and the Dow closed up about a third of percentage point, their fourth week of gains. The only better performance this year was a five-week run started in early August.

Among stocks making moves:

— Nordstrom rose 92 cents, or 1.3 per cent, to $74.17 after the high-end retailer reported earnings that topped financial analysts’ expectations.

— Hertz Global Holdings sank 5 per cent after announcing it needs to restate its financial results for 2012 and 2013. The car-rental company fell $1.04 to $21.69.

The price of oil posted its biggest gain in two months on concerns over Libyan output and strong retail sales in the U.S. that raised expectations for demand. Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.61 to close at $75.82 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $1.92 to $79.41 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the NYMEX:

— Wholesale gasoline rose 4.1 cents to close at $2.043 a gallon.

— Heating oil rose 5.4 cents to close at $2.416 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 4.3 cents to close at $4.022 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The price of U.S. government bonds rose slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 2.32 per cent from 2.34 per cent on Thursday. The yield was at 3 per cent at the start of the year. Yields move in the opposite direction to the price.

The price of gold rose $24.10, or 2.1 per cent, to $1,185.60 an ounce. Silver rose 69 cents, or 4.4 per cent, to $16.31 an ounce and copper rose five cents, or 1.7 per cent, to $3.05 a pound.