US STOCKS-Nasdaq tops 9,000 on Amazon; U.S.-China trade optimism drives record rally

(For a live blog on the U.S. stock market, click or type LIVE/ in a news window)

* China says in close contact with Washington on trade pact

* Amazon gains on report of robust U.S. holiday online sales

* U.S. jobless claims fall, point to labor market strength

* Indexes up: Dow 0.19%, S&P 0.34%, Nasdaq 0.64% (Updates with mid-afternoon trading)

Dec 26 (Reuters) - The Nasdaq topped the 9,000-point mark for the first time on Thursday and the S&P 500 hit a record high, boosted by optimism over U.S.-China trade relations and gains in shares of after a report signaled robust online holiday sales.

Traders returned from the Christmas break to digest comments from Beijing that it was in close contact with Washington about an initial trade agreement, shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump talked up a signing ceremony for the recently struck Phase 1 trade deal.

Cooling U.S.-China trade tensions have fueled the latest leg of Wall Street’s record-setting rally. With just days to go until the yearend, the benchmark S&P 500 is up 29% so far this year, which would be its biggest annual percentage gain since 2013.

“The path of least resistance is up right now,” said Carol Schleif, deputy chief investment officer of Abbot Downing in Minneapolis. “You have had a lot more clarity on certain things that had worried the market all year.”

Shares of Amazon jumped 4.1% after a Mastercard report showed that U.S. shoppers spent more online during the holiday shopping season than in 2018, with e-commerce sales hitting a record high.

“The important part is that the online sales were much stronger than expected. The brick-and-mortar were less than expected, so the online sales, and principally Amazon, saved the day,” said John Conlon, director, equity strategy at People’s United Advisors.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 54.97 points, or 0.19%, to 28,570.42, the S&P 500 gained 11.06 points, or 0.34%, to 3,234.44 and the Nasdaq Composite added 57.12 points, or 0.64%, to 9,010.01.

Consumer discretionary was the biggest gainer among the S&P 500 sectors, spurred by Amazon. Healthcare lagged the most.

The Federal Reserve’s interest rate cuts, economic data that has come in above low expectations, and corporate profits have helped lift stocks this year along with trade-relations optimism.

A Labor Department report on Thursday showed the number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits fell last week in a sign of ongoing labor market strength.

Trading volumes are expected to remain thin during the holiday-shortened week.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.66-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.20-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 27 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 110 new highs and 19 new lows. (Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf in New York Additional reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Leslie Adler)