Stocks End Higher, at Another Record High

U.S. stocks rose Friday, driving the Dow to another all-time high as positive retail sales data helped the broader market, while a gain in oil prices pushed up energy shares such as Exxon Mobil (XOM) Corp.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 12.81 points, or 0.11 percent, to end at a record 11,960.51, which also marked a fresh intraday all-time high. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 2.79 points, or 0.20 percent, to finish at 1,365.62, a fresh 5 1/2-year high. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 11.11 points, or 0.47 percent, to close at 2,357.29.

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For the week, the blue-chip Dow average rose 0.9 percent, while the S&P 500 gained 1.2 percent and the Nasdaq climbed 2.5 percent.

September retail sales unexpectedly fell on a record decline in gasoline sales. However, when the record 9.3 percent drop in gasoline sales was stripped out of the government data, retail sales actually rose 0.6 percent on strong clothing and department store sales. That sign of a healthy economy gave investors a solid reason to buy shares.

"It's no surprise the market is hanging in there," said Scott Wren, senior equity strategist at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in St. Louis, adding that "people are out there spending money. If you look at the retail sales numbers and strip out the gasoline, they look pretty good and they should be in a good job market with falling energy prices."

Gains in recently out-of-favor large-cap tech stocks, including International Business Machines (IBM) Corp. and Qualcomm (QCOM) Inc., helped boost the Dow and the Nasdaq, respectively. IBM rose 1.6 percent, or $1.38, to $86.08 on the New York Stock Exchange, while Qualcomm gained 2.3 percent, or 90 cents, to $39.84 on the Nasdaq.

On Friday, the Dow's advance was curbed in part because conglomerate General Electric Co. posted third-quarter profit in line with Wall Street expectations.

Investors were concerned because GE, the U.S. economic bellwether with operations ranging from jet engine manufacturing to commercial lending, reported weak margins, particularly at its plastics and NBC Universal units.

GE's stock fell 0.7 percent, or 24 cents, to $35.98. In addition to being a major drag on the Dow, GE was the heaviest weight on the S&P 500 and helped limit its gains for the day.

Investors' appetite for tech stocks, though, offset the worries about GE.

"The confirmation from Microsoft (MSFT) that (the operating system) Vista is coming and the delays are behind them has got them stirred up," said Joseph Battipaglia, chief investment officer of Ryan, Beck & Co. in Yardley, Pennsylvania.

"There is an expectation of some spending to come after that" Vista release he added.

Microsoft shares rose 0.5 percent, or 15 cents, to $28.37 on the Nasdaq. The stock also is a component of the Dow and the S&P 500.

Aside from retail sales, the University of Michigan's preliminary reading of its October consumer sentiment index rose to 92.3, exceeding economists' forecast.

The evidence of strong consumer spending bolstered the perception that the Federal Reserve is not inclined to cut interest rates soon. That view prompted some investors to sell bonds.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note , which moves in the opposite direction of its price, rose to 4.81 percent on Friday from 4.78 percent late on Thursday.

A drop in the shares of Centex Corp. (CTX), the fourth-largest U.S. home builder, helped drive an index of home builder stocks down 4.1 percent. Centex shares declined 5.5 percent, or $3.03, to $52.06, a day after the company sharply cut its earnings outlook as a slumping housing market led to record home sale cancellations.

A negative brokerage recommendation prompted investors to sell the shares of Home Depot Inc. (HD), making it among the heaviest weights on the Dow.

Home Depot's stock dropped 2.6 percent, or $1.00, to $36.90 on the NYSE after Prudential Equity Group began coverage of the biggest retailers with an "unfavorable" rating and suggested investors reduce the proportion of Home Depot holdings.

Prudential cited high gasoline prices, higher interest rates and a deteriorating housing market.

Trading was active on the NYSE, with about 1.51 billion shares changing hands, below last year's daily average of 1.61 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 2.00 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 1.80 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones by a ratio of almost 7 to 5 on the NYSE and about 3 to 2 on Nasdaq.

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