US STOCKS-Wall St starts 2020 at record levels on China stimulus, trade hopes

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* China cuts banks’ reserve ratios again to spur economy

* U.S. weekly jobless claims fall

* Casino stocks up as Macau December sales drop less than feared

* Hanesbrands slips after report of Wells Fargo downgrade

* Indexes up: Dow 0.72%, S&P 0.41%, Nasdaq 0.78% (Updates to early afternoon)

Jan 2 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks extended their rally into the new year, with all three major indexes hitting record highs on Thursday, as fresh stimulus from Beijing to prop up its economy added to optimism fueled by easing trade tensions and an improving global outlook.

China’s central bank said on Wednesday it would cut the amount of cash that all banks must hold as reserves, the eighth such cut since early 2018, injecting fresh stimulus into the economy, while also boosting global markets.

The Dow was on track for its biggest percentage gain in three weeks, while the S&P 500 hit its 11th intraday record high in 14 sessions.

Wall Street closed higher on Tuesday after President Donald Trump said an initial U.S.-China trade pact would be signed on Jan. 15. Trump also said he would later travel to Beijing to begin talks on the next phase.

“In general, there isn’t a lot of negativity among investors,” said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, New Vernon, New Jersey.

U.S. presidential elections will take center stage as the year progresses but, for now, there is no major reason for investors to sell stocks, Meckler said.

At 12:41 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 206.03 points, or 0.72%, at 28,744.47, the S&P 500 was up 13.30 points, or 0.41%, at 3,244.08. The Nasdaq Composite was up 70.33 points, or 0.78%, at 9,042.93.

Both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closed 2019 with their biggest annual percentage gains since 2013, while the Dow notched its biggest yearly percentage gain since 2017.

Latest data from the U.S. Labor Department showed the number of Americans filing claims for jobless benefits edged lower last week.

The tech sector was the biggest gainer among the 11 major S&P sectors, with Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp providing the biggest boost.

Traditionally defensive groups such as utilities, real estate and consumer staples fell between 1.0% and 1.6%.

U.S. casino operators rose after December gross gaming revenue in Macau fell less than expected.

Among individual decliners, Hanesbrands Inc slipped 1.5% after a report that Wells Fargo downgraded the apparel maker’s shares to “underweight”.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners for a 1.18-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.12-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 46 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 97 new highs and 10 new lows. (Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Anil D’Silva and Shounak Dasgupta)