U.S. stocks make new 15-month high

NEW YORK Thu Jan 7, 2010 5:51pm EST

An investor monitors stock market prices in Kuala Lumpur January 6, 2010. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

An investor monitors stock market prices in Kuala Lumpur January 6, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks closed mostly higher after a late session push on Thursday while the U.S. dollar benefited from weak euro-zone data and comments from Japan's new finance minister that he wants a weaker yen.

The small move up in U.S. share prices pushed the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor's 500 stock indexes to fresh 15-month highs. The Nasdaq Composite Index just missed the plus column.

Both stocks and the U.S. dollar were aided by rising expectations, as revealed in a new Reuters poll, that the U.S. job market may have improved enough to show there were no job losses in December, thereby ending two years of uninterrupted cuts.

"There're some positive expectations for tomorrow's non-farm (payrolls) number and that might be helping give the dollar a bit of a bid," said Sacha Tihanyi, currency strategist at Scotia Capital in Toronto.

"We're still in that mode where good news on employment is good news for the U.S. dollar in the short term," he said.

The greenback drew support from better-than-expected new weekly U.S. jobless claims, which edged up a slim 1,000 last week to 434,000, but were well shy of Wall Street estimates.

(For more, click link.reuters.com/dun32h)

The U.S. Labor Department reports the December jobs data at 8:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) on Friday.

Speaking to university students in Shanghai, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said the U.S. labor market is improving and the economy is close to the point where unemployment will start to fall.

Among the main drivers for the U.S. equity rebound were positive broker comments on General Electric (GE.N) and Bank of America (BAC.N). Shares of GE rose 5.18 percent to $16.25 and Bank of America gained 3.29 percent to $16.93.

A late holiday shopping surge that helped U.S. retailers beat analysts' sales estimates for December, Thomson Reuters data showed. Industry experts, however, think the momentum is fading early in 2010. (link.reuters.com/byr32h)

U.S. stock indexes closed mixed. The Dow industrials .DJI rose 33.18 points, or 0.31 percent, to 10,606.86 and S&P 500 .SPX advanced 4.55 points, or 0.40 percent, to 1,141.69. However, the Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC lost 1.04 points, or 0.05 percent, to end at 2,300.05.

The Nasdaq felt the impact of weak technology stocks.

"There are certainly questions being asked: Is this going to be indicative of a further sell-off or are we just pausing before resuming the uptrend?" said Michael James, senior trader at regional investment bank Wedbush Morgan in Los Angeles.

Europe's FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 closed down 0.08 percent. Japan's Nikkei average .N225 fell 0.46 percent.

TALKING DOWN YEN

Remarks from Japan's new finance minister, Naoto Kan, that he would like to see the yen weaken in order to support its export-oriented economy fueled the dollar's rise to four month highs against Japan's currency.

The euro suffered after reports showed weak German manufacturing orders and euro zone retail sales data.

The dollar was up against a basket of major trading-partner currencies, with the U.S. Dollar Index .DXY up 0.74 percent.

Against the Japanese yen, the dollar was up 1.03 percent at 93.29.

The euro was down 0.68 percent at $1.4314.

CHINA'S MOVE

Commodity prices were undermined by the dollar's gains, although for oil the picture was mixed as cold weather in the United States and Europe gave some support.

But a surprise interest rate increase by China's central bank on short-term debt raised concerns the government may be trying to slow down lending, curb growth and fight inflation.

This was the first increase for its three-month bills since August, intensifying its grip on liquidity a day after it promised to keep credit growth in check.

"Crude oil edged lower on speculation that China's move to slow bank lending may reduce commodity demand in the country," Addison Armstrong, analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut, said in a note.

U.S. light sweet crude oil fell 52 cents, or 0.63 percent, to $82.66 per barrel, and spot gold prices fell $7.25, or 0.64 percent, to $1,131.20.

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury was unchanged with the yield at 3.8294 percent.

Euro-zone government bonds ended higher. The interest rate-sensitive two-year Schatz yield was down 1.7 basis points at 1.296 percent, while the 10-year Bund yield was down 2.3 basis points at 3.37 percent. Bond prices move inversely with yields.

(Additional reporting by Reuters correspondents worldwide;

Editing by Jan Paschal )

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