US stocks gain on pharma upgrades and solid online shopping

NEW YORK (AFP) - US stocks pushed higher Tuesday, led by gains in pharmaceuticals, technology and retailers, which benefited from greater optimism about the holiday shopping season.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 168.43 points (0.95 per cent) to 17,888.35.

The broad-based S&P 500 rose 22.22 (1.07 per cent) to 2,102.63, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index jumped 47.64 (0.93 per cent) to 5,156.31.

Retailers, which suffered declines Monday on lacklustre shopping data from the "Black Friday" weekend, rebounded for the most part after good results from "Cyber Monday."

Most impressive was online powerhouse, Amazon, which rose 2.2 per cent. Among brick-and-mortar stores, Target rose 0.4 per cent, Macy's 0.6 per cent and Williams-Sonoma 1 per cent.

"The initial retail news over the weekend was pretty bleak, with the number of people shopping in stores was way down from last year," said Chris Low, chief economist at FTN Financial.

"But it turns out sales are not bad, as there was a big increase in people shopping online."

Several large tech stocks rose, with Google adding 3.3 per cent, and Facebook 2.8 per cent. But Apple lost 0.8 per cent.

Among pharma names, Pfizer rose 2.6 per cent, Merck 2.9 per cent and Bristol-Myers Squibb 1.9 per cent after Barclays raised its price targets for all three companies.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals also had a good day, gaining 9.8 per cent.

But Gilead Sciences sat out the sector rally, dipping 0.1 per cent following a US Senate report that accused the biotech company of over-aggressively pricing its hepatitis C treatments and disregarding concerns about patient access.

Ford Motor climbed 1.6 per cent after reporting essentially flat US sales in November, while General Motors rose 0.2 after reporting sales nearly 2 per cent higher. Sales were strong enough to keep 2015 on track to potentially break US sales records.

US economic data was mixed. The Institute for Supply Management purchasing managers index for the manufacturing sector dropped to 48.6 in November, marking the first contraction in three years.

But Commerce Department statistics showed construction spending rose 1 per cent in October compared with September, beating analyst expectations for an increase of 0.7 per cent.