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Wall Street kicked off the new year in rally mode, with stocks roaring higher as traders cheered a temporary solution to the fiscal cliff debacle and generally upbeat corporate earnings. The Dow posted its best January on a percent basis in close to two decades.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 49.8 points, or 0.36%, to 13861, the S&P 500 declined 3.9 points, or 0.26%, to 1498 and the Nasdaq Composite dipped 0.18 point, or 0.01%, to 3142.
The Dow has surged 5.8% this year, while the S&P 500 has rallied 5%. It was the best start of a year since 1994 for the Dow and 1997 for the broader S&P. Both indexes are within striking distance of their record highs. However, while Wall Street has celebrated, this week's batch of economic data has been lackluster.
The economy unexpectedly contracted slightly in the fourth quarter for the first time since 2009, and the Federal Reserve noted in its policy decision Wednesday that the economy had "paused" recently. Economists broadly expect the growth rate to pick up again in the current quarter, but the reports still speak to the fragility of the world's leading economy. At the same time, a report from payroll processor ADP showed the private sector adding considerably more jobs than expected in January.
"Economic activity numbers are providing reasons for both hope and caution," analysts at Barclays wrote in a note to clients.
New data released on Thursday were mixed.
U.S. personal income rose 2.6% in December from November, outpacing estimates of an 0.8% gain. The increase was the largest since December 2004, with the U.S. Commerce Department attributing the rise to special dividends and bonus payments in anticipation of tax changes. U.S. consumer spending rose 0.2%, slightly shy of the 0.3% expected.
The Labor Department said new claims for unemployment benefits rose to 368,000 last week from 330,000 the week prior. Claims were expected to rise to 350,000.
The manufacturing sector in the U.S. Midwest picked up steam in January. The Institute for Supply-Management-Chicago's PMI gauge jumped to 55.6 from 50, easily beating expectations of 50.5. The more closely-watched national ISM report is slated for release on Friday. Also Friday, will be the all-important monthly employment report from the Labor Department.
In corporate news, United Parcel Service (NYSE:UPS) posted an adjusted quarterly profit that missed expectations, but the economic bellwether's revenues topped expectations.
Energy futures were broadly lower. The benchmark U.S. oil contract fell 20 cents, or 0.2%, to $97.74 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline dipped 0.5% to $3.024 a gallon. In metals, gold dipped $8.10, or 0.49%, to $1,674 a troy ounce.
The Euro Stoxx 50 slumped 0.73% to 2712, the English FTSE 100 dipped 0.49% to 6293 and the German DAX slipped 0.32% to 7788.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 rose 0.22% to 11139 and the Chinese Hang Seng fell 0.39% to 23730.