* HP, Apple lead tech sector’s gains
* U.S. jobless claims fall, signaling better labor market
* Consumer sentiment, regional manufacturing top forecasts
* Dow up 0.1 pct; S&P 500 up 0.1 pct; Nasdaq up 0.5 pct
By Angela Moon
NEW YORK, Nov 27 (Reuters) - The Nasdaq advanced on Wednesday to its highest level since September 2000 as Hewlett-Packard lifted the tech sector a day after the company’s earnings.
The Dow and the S&P 500 were little changed by midday trade, trimming earlier gains that were driven by a batch of positive economic reports.
Overall trading volume was light, with many traders out for the Thanksgiving holiday. The U.S. stock market will be closed on Thursday. Regular trading will finish early at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Friday.
Big tech names were among the day’s top gainers. Apple Inc shares rose 2.1 percent to $544.41. Hewlett-Packard’s stock jumped 9.5 percent to $27.47 a day after the company reported better-than-expected results.
Wall Street has soared this year, largely on expectations of continued stimulus from the Federal Reserve. Both the Dow and the S&P 500 have risen more than 20 percent in 2013, hitting a series of all-time highs, while the Nasdaq closed above 4,000 for the first time since 2000 on Tuesday.
“It may be too complacent not to expect a correction or a pullback (with indexes) at these levels, but if you look at the setbacks in 2013, they’ve served as an opportunity to get into a stronger bull market,” said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 9.10 points, or 0.06 percent, at 16,081.90. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 2.29 points, or 0.13 percent, at 1,805.04. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 19.274 points, or 0.48 percent, at 4,037.023. The Nasdaq earlier hit an intraday high at 4,039.861, its highest since September 2000.
Energy shares were the day’s worst-performing sector. The S&P index of energy shares fell 0.9 percent as Brent oil futures dropped on a higher-than-expected increase in U.S. crude oil inventories.
Newfield Exploration shares fell 4.7 percent to $28.11 while Noble Energy slid 5 percent to $69.51.
The holiday shopping season unofficially begins on Friday, and there has already been unprecedented price-cutting from the discount chain Wal-Mart Stores Inc as well as earlier-than-usual deals from online company Amazon.com Inc and price-match promises from Best Buy Co Inc and Target Corp. The S&P retail index rose 0.4 percent.
But short sellers seemed to be targeting the retail sector, according to SunGard’s Astec Analytics.
“Ahead of Black Friday, short sellers in the U.S. seem to be holding some skepticism in the retail sector, hinting at concerns over the gift-buying season. The number of U.S. retail equity shares being borrowed, a proxy for short selling, is seeing a late surge,” said Karl Loomes, market analyst at SunGard’s Astec Analytics, in a client note.
But he noted that Macy’s Inc and Sears Holding were the two exceptions, with the number of shares borrowed falling 13 percent and 6 percent, respectively, for the last seven days.
Among the data that increased optimism about the pace of global growth, weekly jobless claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell in the latest week, a sign of steady improvement in the labor market. Analysts were expecting a rise in claims.
The November Chicago Purchasing Managers Index and the final November reading for the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index also exceeded expectations, indicating that conditions continue to improve.
The price of the digital currency bitcoin soared above $1,000 for the first time on Wednesday, extending a surge this month after a U.S. Senate committee’s hearing on virtual currencies.
Bitcoin hit a high of $1,073 on Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox, the best-known operator of a bitcoin digital marketplace, compared with just below $900 the previous day.