NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks rose Thursday, putting the Dow on track for a record closing high for a sixth straight day as retail names rallied following strong data about the holiday shopping season.
Trading volume was light in the first full day of trading since Monday, following an early close Tuesday and Wednesday's Christmas holiday.
While the market's light action could amplify trading volatility, Wall Street'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 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 in the spotlight as the holiday shopping season drew to a close.
The S&P retail index jumped 0.8 percent. The stock of Urban Outfitters (URBN) rose 2.8 percent to $37.81 and was the S&P 500's biggest percentage gainer. Online retailer Amazon.com (AMZN) gained 1 percent to $403.12.
The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) was up 118.58 points, or 0.72 percent, at 16,476.13. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) was up 8.25 points, or 0.45 percent, at 1,841.57. The Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) was up 10.74 points, or 0.26 percent, at 4,166.16.
The Dow climbed to an all-time intraday high of 16,480.64, while the S&P 500 hit a record intraday high of 1,842.26.
Energy shares also climbed. Exxon Mobil (XOM) shot up 1.8 percent to $100.97 and helped boost the Dow. Chevron (CVX), another Dow component, rose 1.1 percent to $124.86.
At the end of Tuesday's abbreviated trading session, the Dow marked its fifth straight record closing high and the S&P 500 achieved its third record closing high in a row.
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 said Tuesday that poor weather and a high volume of holiday packages delayed the arrival of Christmas presents around the world. Amazon offered compensation to affected customers with shipping refunds and $20 gift cards.
Shares of UPS (UPS) rose 0.1 percent to $104.52 while peer shipping company FedEx (FDX) gained 1.1 percent to $143.49.
In another black eye for the retail industry, the hackers who attacked Target (TGT) 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.
The retail chain's stock rose 1.1 percent to $62.45, though it remained down 1.7 percent over the past five sessions.
In the telecom sector, sources close to the matter told Reuters that Japan's SoftBank was in talks to buy T-Mobile US. Shares of T-Mobile (TMUS) traded at their highest levels since 2007, gaining 0.8 percent to $32.45 in late afternoon trading. The stock was slightly off an intraday high at $32.89.
In other markets, U.S. benchmark Treasuries yields edged higher and were just below their two-year high of 3 percent. Analysts said that if yields stay at that level for an extended period, it might be a negative for stocks and other risky assets.