NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks rose for a fourth straight day on Thursday, sending the Dow and the S&P 500 to new closing highs as positive data on the labor market and an encouraging retail outlook eased recent concerns about economic growth.
Despite the S&P 500's gain of 11.7 percent this year, investors have fretted about the pace of recovery, especially after last week's dramatically weak March payrolls report.
Jobless claims fell far more than expected in the latest week, dropping to the lower end of the range for the year. In another sign that the economy might be in better shape than some recent data had indicated, retail executives and analysts forecast improved same-store sales in April after mixed results in March.
Several of the S&P 500's top percentage gainers were retailers, with discount chain Ross Stores (ROST.O) up 5.9 percent at $63.80, Victoria's Secret parent L Brands Inc LTD.N up 4.3 percent at $50.25, and J.C. Penney Co (JCP.N) up 5.5 percent at $14.86. The SPDR S&P retail ETF (XRT.P) jumped 2 percent to end at a new closing high of $72.98. The S&P 500 retail index .SPXRT hit a 52-week high at 751.72 and then eased a bit to end up 1.2 percent at 747.34.
"This data is especially welcome on the heels of last week's jobs report, and it just adds to the tremendous demand that there continues to be for equities," said Leo Grohowski, chief investment officer at BNY Mellon Wealth Management in New York. "The money that has been waiting for a pullback is running out of patience."
Still, the Nasdaq's gains were limited as technology stocks sold off on an industry report showing shipments of personal computers had fallen significantly in the first quarter. The S&P information technology sector index .SPLRCT slipped 0.5 percent.
Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N) slid 6.5 percent to $20.88 as the S&P 500's top percentage loser, followed by Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), down 4.5 percent at $28.94. Microsoft was also hit after Goldman Sachs downgraded the stock to "sell" from "neutral," citing "worsening PC trends and a lack of traction in tablets and smartphones."
Both HP and Microsoft are Dow components, but the index saw plenty of strength from other members. Three of the blue-chip average's five biggest gainers - Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), Boeing Co (BA.N) and Home Depot Inc (HD.N) - all hit new 52-week highs.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 62.90 points, or 0.42 percent, to close at 14,865.14. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX rose 5.64 points, or 0.36 percent, to 1,593.37. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC edged up 2.90 points, or 0.09 percent, to close at 3,300.16.
All three indexes finished higher for the fourth straight day. Both the Dow and the S&P 500 reached new all-time intraday highs in midday trading before ending at new closing highs. The Dow climbed to an intraday record peak at 14,887.51, while the S&P 500 set a record session high at 1,597.35.
"It's amazing to me that we're already a few points away from our mid-year target of 1,600, which had seemed somewhat aggressive," said Grohowski, who oversees about $179 billion in client assets. "But there's still skepticism about the market and tons of cash on the sidelines, which encourages me that the market can continue to pull higher."
The Dow got its biggest boost from Pfizer (PFE.N), up 2.4 percent at $30.64 after JPMorgan raised its target price on the U.S. drugmaker's stock to $33 from $32.
Acadia Pharmaceuticals Inc (ACAD.O) surged 64.4 percent to $13.10 after the drugmaker said data from an initial late-stage trial would be sufficient to file for approval for its experimental antipsychotic drug for Parkinson's disease patients. Earlier, Acadia's stock touched a session high at $13.92, its highest since November 2007.
Other economic data showed import prices slipped 0.5 percent last month, in line with expectations, while export prices fell 0.4 percent, signaling inflation pressure remained tepid and would allow the Federal Reserve to continue with its current monetary policy.
About 59 percent of New York Stock Exchange-listed shares closed higher while slightly more Nasdaq-listed shares fell than rose. About 6.17 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.36 billion shares.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)