Stocks open slightly higher; S&P 500, Dow hover near records

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Stocks were modestly higher in early trading Thursday, helped by a bit of good economic data. Trading was relatively quiet with many investors having closed out their positions for the year.

The S&P 500 index was up 0.3% as of 10:15 a.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.2% and the Nasdaq was up 0.6%.

Companies that rely on consumer spending as well as energy and materials companies led the gains. Travel and leisure companies also rose, including Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival, and Wynn Resorts. Media companies were also higher, including Discovery Communications, Viacom and DISH Network.

Investors got a couple bits of good news to close out the year. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell below 200,000, more evidence that the job market remains strong in the aftermath of last year’s coronavirus recession.

Meanwhile the Chicago Purchasing Manager Index, a gauge of manufacturing and economic activity, came in at 63.1 for December. That’s slightly better than the reading of 62.0 that economists were expecting, according to FactSet.

Investor concerns about the omicron variant have eased after researchers said it appears to cause less severe symptoms and President Joe Biden avoided announcing travel or other restrictions that might weigh on economic activity.

Still, markets are uncertain about the impact of omicron, which is spreading fast and quickly becoming the dominant variant.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was mostly unchanged at 1.54%.