Stocks Slightly Up on Short Day of Trading

 Stocks are ending a shortened session higher as investors cap a week of enormous gains with a focus on retailers.

The stock market has closed three hours early Friday with moderate gains and has extended the advance of the broader market to five straight sessions. Financial and industrial stocks have outpaced energy and technology names.

The Dow Jones industrial average is ending up 102, or 1.2 percent, at the 8,829 level.

Investors were focused on the prospects for the holiday shopping period, which began in earnest Friday. Wall Street expects retailers will suffer as consumers, nervous about lost jobs, falling home values and a jittery stock market, grow more restrained in their spending this year.

"You've seen all sorts of numbers that point to the fact that discretionary spending in the economy has come to an absolute halt," said David Reilly, director of portfolio strategy at Rydex Investments.

A rare drop in year-over-year holiday spending would be troubling as it is the most important slice of the year for most retailers and because consumer purchases account for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. But while some stores around the nation appeared busy Friday morning as shoppers looked for bargains, the early evidence is anecdotal and Wall Street will have to wait for cash register tallies.

"The discounting appears to be unbelievable," said Reilly. "The retail sector is going to do whatever it can to get people through the door."

Reilly said Wall Street is likely to remain jittery as it tries to estimate how long the economy will remain weak; he is forecasting a recession of more than a year rather than the typical 10 months.

"I think the market is still in the process of adjusting to the fact that we're in a very difficult recession."

Because volumes remain low, the indexes' moves Friday won't likely give investors a strong sense of the market's direction. Still, it was a welcome sign that the market did not sell off strongly after the Dow's streak of four straight advances, which gave the index its biggest four-day gain since 1932.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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