By Anna Hirtenstein 

U.S. stocks edged higher during Friday's holiday-shortened session as gains across shares of technology and health-care companies pushed the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite toward new closing records.

The broad S&P 500 added 0.4% in recent trading, while the Nasdaq advanced 1.1%, putting both benchmarks on pace to top their previous closing highs set earlier this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was also trading higher, gaining 56 points to 29930, but fell short of hitting a new milestone.

The stock market closes at 1 p.m. ET. on Friday.

Markets have been largely buoyant this week, with the Dow crossing the 30000 mark for the first time Tuesday, even as rising coronavirus infection levels across the U.S. and economic data point to a halting recovery that may curb consumer confidence. Investors appear to be looking ahead to next year, betting that Covid-19 vaccines will curb the pandemic and allow social and business activity to return to normal, along with a rebound in corporate earnings.

"The hopefuls are leading the realists: they believe that the economy will return to an equilibrium with a high growth rate. They are looking beyond the shock," said Sebastien Galy, a macro strategist at Nordea Asset Management. "It's a matter of time though: there are still deep underlying issues with Covid spiking in the U.S."

Investors' zeal for stocks amid all of that has pushed the three major benchmarks up more than 2% this week, while gains for November have extended into double-digit percentages. The Dow has added nearly 13% since the end of October, on track to notch its biggest monthly advance since 1987. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite have risen 11% and 12%, respectively, their biggest month-to-date gains since April.

Still, analysts and investors warn that stocks appear to be putting themselves on a high ledge as the coronavirus pandemic worsens. The number of people hospitalized in the U.S. due to Covid-19 surpassed 90,000 for the first time. More than 110,000 new cases were reported around the nation Thursday, sharply lower than totals in recent days. But infection levels are likely to rise again because of large gatherings and reunions for the Thanksgiving Day celebrations.

"There's still a lot of cases and restrictions in the U.S.: a lot of activity is going to stall again," said Samy Chaar, chief economist at Lombard Odier. "This will have an impact potentially on the next job market report," he said, referring to labor-market figures for November that will be released Dec. 4.

One concern that appears to be simmering down is the outcome of the election. President Trump said Thursday that he would leave the White House if the electoral college backs Joe Biden. The president's campaign has lost several legal challenges that allege election fraud, and he has come under pressure from Republicans to accept the results.

"He lost big enough for this election to be very difficult to contest. It's a done deal for markets," said Mr. Chaar. "Everyone is working under the assumption that it will be a Biden administration."

Meanwhile, Black Friday kicks off the traditional start of the crucial holiday shopping season in the U.S. Investors will be closely watching metrics such as e-commerce and mobility data to try to gauge consumer confidence and the extent that the pandemic and historically-high levels of unemployment will weigh on the retail sector.

"Given the difficult year for so many retailers, there's definitely going to be expectations for them to try to play catch up," said Esty Dwek, head of global market strategy at Natixis Investment Solutions. Black Friday "should give a nice bump to the [economic data] numbers."

Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 wavered between small gains and losses. The U.K. was the worst-performing stock market in Europe Friday, with the benchmark FTSE 100 index sliding 0.5%.

In Asia, most major stock benchmarks gained. The Shanghai Composite Index climbed 1.1%, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index added 0.3%. Profits at China's industrial firms in October rose over 28% from a year earlier, an acceleration from the 10% rise the previous month, in yet another sign of the strength of the country's recovery.

-- Michael Wursthorn contributed to this article.

Write to Anna Hirtenstein at anna.hirtenstein@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 27, 2020 11:13 ET (16:13 GMT)

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