Dow eyes record highs in thin holiday trade; retailers jump

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(Reuters) – The Dow inched towards an all-time high on Wednesday, on a boost from retailers Home Depot and Nike, while record daily U.S. COVID-19 infections kept gains in check amid low trading volumes in the final week of the year.

Home Depot and Nike Inc advanced 0.8% and 1.8%, respectively, against the backdrop of recent reports suggesting holiday sales were strong for U.S. retailers.

Some early studies pointing to a reduced risk of hospitalization in Omicron cases have helped investors look past the travel disruptions and powered the S&P 500 to record highs this week.

“As long as we don’t shut the economy down, GDP will be fine next year, and therefore earnings will be fine next year,” said Gary Black, managing partner, the Future Fund Active ETF.

Meanwhile, the S&P 1500 airlines index shed 0.3%. Delta Air Lines and Alaska Air Group canceled hundreds of flights again on Tuesday as daily tally of infections in the United States surged.

Six of the 11 major S&P sector indexes advanced. The energy index, though, slipped 0.4%.

Typically, the final five trading days of the year and the first two of the subsequent year are seasonally strong for U.S. stocks. However, market participants warned against reading too much into daily moves as the holiday season tends to record some of the lowest volume turnovers that cause exaggerated price action.

At 11:21 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 59.51 points, or 0.16%, at 36,457.72, the S&P 500 was up 4.20 points, or 0.09%, at 4,790.55, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 16.58 points, or 0.11%, at 15,765.14.

The S&P 500 dipped on Tuesday in the lowest trading volume session of 2021, snapping a four-day winning streak.

As 2021 draws to a close, the main U.S. stock indexes are on pace for their third straight year of stunning annual returns, boosted by historic fiscal and monetary stimulus. The S&P 500 is looking at its strongest three-year performance since 1999.

The focus next year will shift to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s path of interest rate hikes amid a surge in prices caused by supply chain bottlenecks and a strong economic rebound.

Among other stocks, Rivian Automotive dropped 5.2% after company announced it would delay deliveries of its electric pickup truck and sports utility vehicle with big battery packs to 2023.

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk exercised all of his options expiring next year, signaling an end to his stock sales. Its shares dropped 0.6% but were still on course to end about 54% for the year.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.21-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.23-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 61 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 53 new highs and 311 new lows.

(Reporting by Medha Singh and Anisha Sircar in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)