Tech leads S&P above 2,600; Amazon, other retail stocks gain

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NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Technology stocks led the S&P 500 and Nasdaq to record closing highs on Friday (Nov 24), with the S&P ending above 2,600 points for the first time, while Amazon and retail stocks got a boost from signs of a strong start to the holiday shopping season.

The benchmark S&P 500 and the blue-chip Dow Jones industrials posted weekly gains for the first time in three weeks while the Nasdaq Composite posted its best weekly performance since the week to Sept 1.

The stock market had a half session on what is known as Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday and the unofficial start of the US holiday shopping season.

US stores offered deep discounts, entertainment and gifts to draw bargain hunters, but some shoppers said they were just eyeing goods, reserving their cash for online purchases.

On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, US shoppers spent more than US$2.87 billion (S$3.8 billion) online, according to Adobe Analytics.

Adobe, which measures 80 per cent of online transactions at the largest 100 US web retailers, forecast online Black Friday sales of US$5 billion, which would be a record high. Online retailers could rake in an additional US$6.6 billion on Cyber Monday.

The S&P retail index rose 0.75 per cent and hit a record intraday high, led by Amazon's 2.6 per cent gain.

"In the retail environment, Amazon is extremely important - the fact that Amazon continued to soar bodes well for the fourth-quarter holiday shopping season and it bodes well for Wall Street," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of 50 Park Investments.

Brick-and-mortar stores, which have been boosting their online presence, also fared well.

Macy's closed up 2.1 per cent at US$21.07. The department store operator's chief executive told CNBC the company was better off this year than last and was seeing very robust online demand.

Kohl's, Gap and JC Penney were up between 0.6 per cent and 1.6 per cent.

Target ended 2.8 percent lower at US$55.88, with analysts noting that it closed its stores for several hours overnight while rivals stayed open. Wal-Mart inched up 0.2 per cent.

The Dow rose 31.81 points, or 0.14 per cent, to 23,557.99, while the S&P gained 5.34 points, or 0.21 per cent, to 2,602.42. The Nasdaq added 21.80 points, or 0.32 per cent, to 6,889.16.

The CBOE Volatility Index, better known as the VIX and the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term stock market volatility, closed at 9.67, nearly a three-week low.

Just after the stock market closed at 1pm New York time (2am on Saturday, Singapore time), the VIX fell to 8.56, ostensibly a record intra-day low. A CBOE Global Markets spokeswoman, however, said it was not a 'legitimate quote' and was caused by S&P 500 options quotes briefly going wide in thin, low volume markets.

It was not immediately clear whether the CBOE would update historical data for the VIX to correct the quote.

The energy index and the materials index were boosted by rising commodities prices.

US oil prices jumped to a more than two-year high as North American markets tightened on the partial closure of a key pipeline linking Canada and the United States.

About 2.78 billion shares changed hands in US exchanges in the shortened session. The daily average over the last 20 full sessions is 6.48 billion shares. Last year, volume during the session after Thanksgiving was three billion shares.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.61-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.31-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P posted 35 new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq recorded 120 new highs and 21 new lows.

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