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After The Close - Momentum is a good thing to have when it is going your way, and the stock market certainly had it in 2013. On the final trading day of the year today, the major averages continued their winning ways, posting further gains on the strength of economic data that indicated consumer confidence was improving nicely.

The Conference Board, a private research firm, said this morning that its Index of Consumer Confidence jumped to 78.1 in December from a revised 72.0 in November.  The optimism stemmed from improved feelings about job prospects. The healthy gains of over 200,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in October and November reported by the Labor Department augur well for more spending on the part of consumers, who make up far and away the biggest percentage of the economy.

The better-than-expected consumer confidence number trumped a slightly disappointing reading on the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago’s business barometer, which declined to 59.1 in December from 63.0 in November. Even so, the most recent figure remained well above the 50.0 dividing line between expansion and contraction.

There was supportive news elsewhere, too. The American Banker Index of Banking Activity rose in November for the first time since May, sparked by an accelerated pace of commercial lending after the end of the government shutdown in October. 

Turning to the stock market’s various sectors, energy stocks enjoyed an especially good session. That was even as oil prices eased a bit on fresh reports that Libyan oil production is close to picking up after labor unrest shuttered more than one million barrels a day of pumping capacity for a number of months. Strength in shares of refining companies, such as Valero Energy (VLO) and Marathon Petroleum (MPC), was particularly in evidence.

At the corporate level, shares of Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ) jumped on word that the company had adopted a shareholder rights plan in response to heavy trading activity in its shares. The stock of Marvell Technology Group (MRVL) also made a nice percentage move after buyout shop KKR & Co. (KKR) reported that it had taken a 6.8% stake in the chipmaker.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day and the U.S. markets are closed in observance of the holiday. Trading will resume on Thursday, January 2nd.

We sincerely wish everyone a happy and healthy 2014.   - Robert Mitkowski

At the time of this writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned. 

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12:00 PM EST - The U.S. stock market is putting in a solid performance today. Notably, this is the last trading session of 2013, a year that delivered sizable gains for equities. At just past noon in New York, The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 51 points; the broader S&P 500 Index is higher by six points; and the technology-heavy NASDAQ is up 17 points. Market breadth suggests that today’s up move is fairly widespread, as advancing stocks are ahead of decliners by about two to one on the NYSE. Further, all of the market sectors are in positive territory, and that too indicates a bullish bias. Notably, the technology names are showing some leadership. The energy stocks also are making strides. While there is no real weakness in the market today, the healthcare stocks are lagging a bit.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index is moving to new 52-week high ground, as it approaches the 1,850 mark. This may be a key area, and could present some resistance, as it corresponds to a large round number. The VIX is slightly lower today, suggesting traders are feeling a bit more assured. While 2013 has been a good year for stocks, many are looking ahead to 2014. One can only speculate at this point how the months ahead will pan out for investors. Some are probably looking for a continued recovery in the basic materials area, or a rebound in European issues. Only time will tell.

Traders received a fairly large batch of economic news today. Most notably, The Conference Board’s consumer confidence report showed this key measure rose to 78.1 in December, up from the prior month’s figure, and a bit better than analysts had anticipated. This report, which is widely watched, may well be behind today’s upward push. Meanwhile, the Chicago PMI slipped to 59.1 in December, suggesting that the economy in that region may be a bit less vibrant than had been expected. Elsewhere, home prices continued to rise at a decent pace in October, according to the Case-Shiller report.

In corporate news, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) has agreed to buy a business unit from Phillips 66 (PSX), and that stock is up. Also in the M&A area, Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ) stock is moving higher after it has been disclosed that a large investor is taking a position in the auto rental company.   - Adam Rosner

At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned. 

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Stocks to Watch from The SurveyCorporate news is fairly quiet ahead of the last trading day of 2013. Still, there are some stocks to keep an eye on. Indeed, shares of Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ) are up moderately in the premarket, after the car rental company adopted a shareholder rights plan (i.e., poison pill) in response to “unusual and substantial” trading in its stock. Shares of Marvell Technology Group (MRVL) are also indicating a nicely higher opening this morning, after private-equity firm KKR & Co. announced that it has amassed a 6.8% stake in the telecommunications equipment company. – Matthew E. Spencer

At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.

Before The Bell - Wall Street will shortly put the finishing touches on what has been a truly magnificent yearly for those investors who have been long equities. To wit, going into the final fay of the old year, and after just a modestly better performance yesterday, the leading averages are all strongly higher on the year.

Specifically, after some grudging gains in the latest session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 25.9% so far in 2013; the Standard and Poor's 500 Index is ahead 29.1%; and the NASDAQ is up a stirring 37.6%, in part on outsized gains in a number of high-profile tech names. Not to be outdone, the small-cap Russell 2000 Composite is in the black to the tune of 36.6%. It has been that kind of a year; in fact, 2013 has been Wall Street's best year in a decade and a half. Not surprisingly, each of the 10 S&P sectors is up on the year, some dramatically so.

However, these increases, which would have been impressive in any setting, are particularly noteworthy in view of the fact that the current bull market is now almost five years old, having commenced in March of 2009, following one of the worst bear markets since the Great Depression. Stocks were clearly undervalued at the start of the long recovery; that is not the case now; indeed, at best, valuations appear fair, but more likely are frothy. 

Meanwhile, helping stocks to these exceptional gains has been the combination of solid and now seemingly accelerating economic growth; an accommodative Federal Reserve, which even now, while starting to taper its aggressive bond-buying activities, is still pumping new money into the system at a rapid pace and is on record as stating that it plans to keep interest rates low for some time yet; low inflation; and steady corporate earnings growth from a large majority of American companies. Most sense that new money, which flowed into the market at a hefty pace in 2013, will continue to come in next year, albeit at a lesser rate.        

This strong showing notwithstanding, the bull is starting to look a little fatigued here, at least judging by the market's largely tepid performances last Friday and again yesterday. On point, after being in and out of positive territory for most of the latest session, the 30-stock Dow Jones Industrial Average did make a late push, finally climbing moderately into the black with a 26-point gain on the session. Moreover, it was the 51st record close for this blue chip index in 2013. The other large-cap composites (e.g., the Standard and Poor's 500 Index and the tech-laden NASDAQ), however were unable to add to the year's gains, although the scant reversals booked by each did nothing to pare their hefty increases during the now-concluding year.

Yesterday, meantime, was a slow day for economic news with just a release on pending home sales for the latest month, which showed a slight uptick, being of some note. That will change today, with a closely watched issuance, the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index, due out some 30 minutes into the trading day. We also will get a look at home prices in another report to be released during the day. A notable increase is expected in the confidence survey for December, while the other data should show that home prices are still heading higher. One other release of note this week will be Thursday's report on manufacturing activity across the country. Here, as well, a relatively strong report is the expectation.    

As to some individual groups, declines in oil prices and gold quotations hurt these sectors yesterday. Gold issues, in particular have been among Wall Street's few notable casualties on the year, with several of them making regular appearances on the list of new 52-week lows. Oil stocks have performed somewhat better, but yesterday saw some modest erosion there, as well, with a pair of Dow components, Exxon Mobil (XOM - Free Exxon Stock Report) and Chevron (CVX - Free Chevron Stock Report) tracking a bit lower in response to oil's modest dip.

Now, as we look ahead to a new day, we find that equities were mixed overnight in Asia, while in Europe this morning, the major bourses are tracking a mixed to slightly higher course in early trading. On our shores, meantime, the equity futures are showing modest gains with less than an hour to go before the start of the new trading session. It should be noted in closing that today will be a regular trading day for equities, as it always is on the final session of the year. This enables traders and investors to have a full day to make any end-of-year adjustments to their portfolios, while the bond market will close at 2PM (EST). 

We would like to take this opportunity, meanwhile, to wish all of our readers a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year in 2014.   - Harvey S. Katz

At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.