Stocks edge toward 'best December'

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The Dow Jones industrials rose 9.84 points to close at 11,585.38

Stocks have finished higher as the market continued on pace for its best December in nearly twenty years.

The Standard and Poor’s 500-stock index – the market measure used by most professional investors – has gained 6.7% this month. If it closes on Friday at this level or higher, it will be the best December return for the index since 1991.

Trading continued to be thin ahead of the New Year’s holiday. In the absence of any fresh economic data or major corporate news, investors were attracted to the government’s latest bond auction. Treasurys rallied and stocks also drew strength from the successful sale. Traders’ moods also appear to be buoyed by the mostly positive economic news of recent weeks.

Strong corporate profits have helped push stocks higher for much of 2010.

The Dow Jones Industrial average closed 9.84 points higher, or 0.1%, to 11,585.38. The S&P 500 rose 1.27, or 0.1%, to 1,259.78. The technology-focused Nasdaq gained 4.05, or nearly 0.2%, to 2,666.93.

Stocks rose across the market, with eight of the 10 industry groups in the S&P index posting gains.

Stock trading volumes on Wall Street are expected to be light throughout the week between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Many investors have already closed their books for the year and are on holiday until January. Trading volume totalled just 2.3 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange, where seven shares rose for every three that fell.

The dollar fell 0.7% against an index of six heavily traded currencies.

Looking ahead to Thursday, investors will check for signs of how the housing market is performing when November data on pending home sales will be released. In October, there was a 10% increase in new contracts signed on falling home prices and low mortgage rates.

Also on Thursday, the Labour Department will report on weekly unemployment claims.

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