U.S. Markets closed

Stocks rally to record highs; gold gains

By Herbert Lash
Traders work on the floor at the NYSE in New York

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Gold prices rose and a gauge of global equity markets hit an all-time high on Thursday in light holiday trade as a year-end rally on Wall Street advanced further on optimism over a U.S.-China trade agreement.

Oil rose to three-month highs, buoyed by a report showing lower U.S. crude inventories, hopes the pending Sino-U.S. trade deal will soon be signed and efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to curb crude supply.

Boxing Day holidays closed markets in Commonwealth countries around the world while a second Christmas Day shuttered markets in a swath of European countries.

Overnight in Asia, equity markets rose, with China shares closing higher after Beijing laid out additional plans to bolster its economy, including some $385 billion in planned infrastructure investments.

MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe <.MIWD00000PUS> gained 0.27% to a record high in its best year since 2009. The index is just shy of gaining 24% this year.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> closed up 0.15%, while Japan's Nikkei <.N225> rose 0.60%. The MSCI emerging market index rose 0.27%.

Stocks on Wall Street rallied. The Nasdaq topped the 9,000-point mark for the first time and the S&P 500 also hit a record high, boosted by optimism over U.S.-China trade and gains in Amazon.com after a report signaled robust online holiday sales.

Shares of Amazon <AMZN.O> jumped 4.3% after Mastercard said U.S. shoppers spent more online during the holiday shopping season than in 2018, with e-commerce sales hitting a record.

The S&P 500, up 29% so far this year, is about six-tenths of 1 percentage point short of its best year since 1997.

Investors in major equity markets around the world have chalked up strong gains this year, marking a contrast to a plunge late last year, noted Yousef Abbasi, global market strategist at INTL FCStone Financial Inc in New York.

"People are pretty happy with this year," he said.

Fourth-quarter earnings will soon come into focus in January, which should highlight whether sentiment among corporate management has improved, Abbasi said.

Recession fears scuttled capital expenditure plans during much of 2019, but strong employment and signs of an improving global economy suggest that will change next year.

The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits fell last week in a sign of ongoing labor market strength.

A spokesman for China's commerce ministry said Chinese and U.S. officials are in close touch and going through necessary procedures before signing a Phase 1 trade deal.

In afternoon trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> rose 46.85 points, or 0.16%, to 28,562.3. The S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 9.62 points, or 0.30%, to 3,233 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 55.33 points, or 0.62%, to 9,008.21.

Gold prices rose to a two month high. Spot gold <XAU=> added 0.7% to $1,509.10 an ounce.

Gold has been on the rise recently as a hedge against potential inflation, dollar weakness and increased equity market volatility in 2020, Abbasi said.

U.S. Treasury yields edged lower before the Treasury Department was to sell $43 billion in seven-year notes, with volume light during a holiday-shortened week.

Benchmark 10-year notes <US10YT=RR> last rose 2/32 in price to yield 1.9032%.

The auction comes after the U.S. government drew strong demand for a $41 billion sale of five-year notes on Tuesday and slightly soft interest in a $40 billion two-year note sale on Monday.

The dollar edged lower, while oil gained.

The dollar index <.DXY> fell 0.15%, with the euro <EUR=> up 0.1% to $1.1101. The Japanese yen <JPY=> weakened 0.28% versus the greenback at 109.67 per dollar.

The American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry group, said late Tuesday that U.S. crude stocks fell by 7.9 million barrels last week, much more than analysts had forecast.

Brent crude <LCOc1>, the global benchmark, settled up 72 cents at $67.92 a barrel, the highest since Sept. 17. U.S. West Texas Intermediate <CLc1> crude gained 57 cents to settle at $61.68 a barrel.

U.S. gold futures <GCcv1> settled 0.7% higher at $1,514.40 an ounce.



(Reporting by Herbert Lash; Editing by Dan Grebler)