* Dow up after record close; on track for 6th straight gain
* Jobless claims fall more than expected in latest week
* Retailers rise; MasterCard data shows holiday sales growth
* Dow up 0.4 pct, S&P 500 up 0.3 pct, Nasdaq up 0.2 pct
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, Dec 26 U.S. stocks advanced on Thursday, putting the Dow on track for a sixth straight day of gains, although trading was light following the Christmas holiday.
Thursday is the first full day of trading since Monday, following an early close on Tuesday and Wednesday's Christmas holiday. Volume has been anemic this week with many traders away, a fact that could amplify market volatility.
Nevertheless, the stock market's recent upward bias continued, with the Dow on track for its longest winning streak since March. Both the Dow and the S&P 500 closed at record highs on Tuesday.
"I don't get why we seem to have an eternally upward market, but it looks like that's what we have," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. "There's no reason to sell stocks, but also not much reason to buy except for that fact that we continue to be poised to go higher."
In a positive sign for economic growth, initial jobless claims fell 42,000 in the latest week, dropping to 338,000 - the lowest level in nearly a month. Analysts had expected 345,000 new claims.
Retail stocks stayed on center stage as the holiday shopping season drew to a close. Data published by MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse said sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 rose 2.3 percent. The S&P retail index rose 0.6 percent, while Urban Outfitters rose 2.4 percent to $37.65 as one of the S&P 500's biggest percentage gainers.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 71.86 points, or 0.44 percent, at 16,429.41. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 5.60 points, or 0.31 percent, at 1,838.92. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 9.62 points, or 0.23 percent, at 4,165.04.
Both the Dow and the S&P 500 ended Tuesday's abbreviated trading session at record highs. Those milestones marked the fifth straight record closing high in a row for the Dow and the third consecutive record closing high for the S&P 500.
The S&P 500 has soared almost 29 percent this year, largely due to stimulus from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The index is on track for its best year since 1997. The Dow is up 25.2 percent in 2013 while the Nasdaq has jumped about 38 percent.
United Parcel Service on Tuesday said poor weather and a high volume of holiday packages delayed the arrival of Christmas presents around the world. Amazon.com Inc offered compensation to affected customers with shipping refunds and $20 gift cards.
Shares of UPS dipped 0.1 percent to $104.39 while Amazon rose 0.5 percent to $401.21. FedEx Corp gained 0.8 percent to $143.14.
In another black eye for the retail industry, the hackers who attacked Target Corp and compromised up to 40 million credit cards and debit cards also managed to steal encrypted personal identification numbers, a senior payments executive told Reuters. In spite of the news, the discount store chain's shares rose 1.2 percent to $62.43. Target's advance on Thursday followed a slide of 1.7 percent in the stock's price over the past five sessions.
In the telecom sector, sources close to the matter told Reuters that Japan's SoftBank Corp was in talks to buy T-Mobile US Inc. Shares of T-Mobile US gained 0.3 percent to $32.30.