By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks scored modest gains on Tuesday as investors exercised restraint from making big bets in a short session ahead of the Christmas holiday, with the Dow and S&P 500 once again ending at record highs.
Markets closed early on Tuesday and will remain shut until Thursday for the holiday. Trading was extremely light during the day's abbreviated session, which ended at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT). Many market participants were out of the office on the day before Christmas. Volume is expected to remain muted throughout the week and the light trading could allow for greater volatility.
Both the Dow and S&P 500 continued to ascend to all-time highs, with the Dow reaching a record high for the fifth consecutive session, while the S&P 500's record streak stood at three days in a row. Further upside may be limited at these levels, especially in the absence of major trading catalysts.
"What we are seeing is the market heading into the Christmas holiday extended on a near-term basis, but we are not seeing any interest in profit taking," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
"We may see a little price consolidation across the week and headed into the New Year."
In the latest positive sign for the economy, data showed orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods shot up 3.5 percent in November and a gauge of planned business spending on capital goods marked its largest increase in nearly a year.
A separate report revealed new home sales slipped in November, but sales in October were revised to show the highest pace in more than five years and house prices rebounded.
The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 62.94 points or 0.39 percent, to finish at 16,357.55, a record closing high. The S&P 500 (^GSPC) gained 5.33 points or 0.29 percent, to end at 1,833.32, a record closing high. The Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) added 6.513 points or 0.16 percent, to close at 4,155.417.
The Dow also hit an all-time intraday high at 16,360.60, while the S&P 500 reached a record intraday high at 1,833.32.
The S&P 500 has soared 28.5 percent this year, largely due to stimulus measures from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The index is on track for its best year since 1997. The Dow is up 24.8 percent in 2013 while the Nasdaq has jumped 37.6 percent for the year.
The retail sector stayed in focus on the last shopping day before Christmas. Target Corp's (TGT) general counsel, Timothy Baer, spoke with top state prosecutors on Monday to address their concerns about a massive data breach, as consumer lawsuits piled up against the discount retailer and two U.S. senators called for a federal probe. Target's stock slipped 0.3 percent to $61.71.
Walt Disney Co (DIS) named Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) co-founder Jack Dorsey an independent board director. Shares of Disney, a Dow component, rose 0.8 percent to $73.85 while Twitter surged 8.4 percent to $69.96.
Private equity firm Carlyle Group LP (CG.O) is nearing an agreement to acquire Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ) ortho clinical diagnostics unit, four people familiar with the matter said on Monday, in a deal expected to be worth around $4 billion. Carlyle Group shares gained 2.1 percent to $36.11. Johnson & Johnson, a Dow component, edged up 3 cents, or 0.03 percent, to $92.06.
Volume was light because of the abbreviated session, with only about 2.17 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges - well below the 6.43 billion average so far this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the New York Stock Exchange by a ratio of 2 to 1. On the Nasdaq, slightly more than three stocks rose for every two that fell.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)