Dow, S&P 500 Cap Session at Fresh Record Highs

Markets Reuters

The U.S. stock market finished Thursday's mostly subdued trading session slightly higher. The incremental gains on the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which came amidst thin trading volumes, were enough to send the indexes deeper into record territory.

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The S&P 500 (SPX) closed 4 points, or 0.2%, higher at 2,052.75, the 44th record close this year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) added 33.27 points, or 0.2%, to 17,719.00, logging its 27th record close in 2014.

Diving deeper into Thursday's trading action reveals, small companies outperformed the large, while gains in energy and technology sectors outweighed losses in healthcare and consumer staples.

The Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) ended the day up 26.16 points, or 0.6%, at 4,701.87, while the Russell 2000 rallied, adding 1.1% to 1,170.80.

Kim Forrest, portfolio manager and senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group, said that the stock market is very representative of the current economy.

"Investors see the latest data as confirmation that the economy is getting better, but not fast enough. At this point, if we see a big rally into the year-end, it will only be at the expense of future gains," Forrest said.

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Ahead of the opening bell, stock futures were under pressure after a batch of economic indicators from Europe and China showed weakness. However, markets were able to shake off those concerns following some upbeat data as well as better-than-expected earnings from retailers.

Among Tuesday's positive economic releases was a rise in existing home sales, a jump in the Philly Fed index and weekly jobless claims remaining below 300,000 for the 10th straight week.

Consumer prices were flat in October, while U.S. November Markit flash PMI was the weakest since January, declining for a third straight month.

Goldman's call for S&P 500 and data on tap: The investment bank said in its equity outlook for 2015 that the S&P 500 should rise to 2,100 by the end of that year, making for a "modest" 5% total return. It added that the market reaction to the first Federal Reserve rate hike in six years should be "benign."

But Goldman also said 2015 will be challenging for active equity managers, as low volatility is likely to remain a defining theme. The S&P 500 will rise to 2,150 by mid-year, but then slip during the second half, it forecast.

(Also see: Consumer spending to benefit from gas that is cheaper than milk http://www.marketwatch.com/story/consumer-spending-to-benefit-from-gas-thats-cheaper-than-milk-2014-11-19.)

Stocks in focus: Best Buy Co.(BBY) shares jumped 7% after earnings beat forecasts.

Dollar Tree Inc. (DLTR) shares rose 5.2% after the discount-retailer beat third-quarter sales and profit expectations, posting its best sales figures since 2011.

Salesforce.com(CRM) fell 4.5% after the cloud-computing company's weak outlook overshadowed its slight beat on the third quarter.

Caesars Entertainment Corp.(CZR) soared 5.4% after Bloomberg News reported the casino operator plans to turn its largest unit into a real-estate investment trust.

For more about today's movers, read our regular column on Movers and Shakers

In other markets: Markit reported that the flash November reading for the composite purchasing managers index in the eurozone dropped to 51.4, its lowest level in 16 months. After the release, European stocks tumbled, as did the euro (EURUSD) versus the dollar.

The data confirms that the eurozone is still in rough shape. Germany's own November preliminary manufacturing survey came in at 50.0, versus an expected 51.5. Stock futures were also dealing with weakness in a similar gauge out of China, which showed factory activity declined in November, after gaining in the prior month. PMI data out of Japan was also weak.

The dollar(USDJPY) eased against the Japanese yen at Yen118. The Nikkei 225 index closed flat. Gold (GCZ4) drifted lower, while oil (CLZ4) rose more than 1% on hopes that the global cartel of oil exporters will move to tighten the market.