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Wall St. takes a breather

Abbreviated trading before Christmas left indexes up slightly after several days of losses.

Among the traders singing "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie,"a New York Stock Exchange holiday tradition, are (from left) Theodore Weisberg, Michael Sollitto and Arthur Cashin.
Among the traders singing "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie,"a New York Stock Exchange holiday tradition, are (from left) Theodore Weisberg, Michael Sollitto and Arthur Cashin.Read moreMARY ALTAFFER / Associated Press

NEW YORK - Wall Street rose modestly in light holiday trading yesterday after the government released downbeat, but unsurprising, readings on rising U.S. joblessness and declining consumer spending.

The swelling rate of unemployment has been particularly worrisome to investors. The more people lose their jobs, or fear they will lose their jobs, the more they close their wallets. And consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

But Wall Street's reaction to yesterday's economic data was a shrug. Investors have largely been factoring in bad numbers for the fourth quarter as Americans have adjusted to the slumping economy and as banks and automakers have scrambled for funding from the U.S. government to stay afloat.

"We've got to get through this year - it's been crazy - and just start over," said Stephen Carl, principal and head of equity trading at the Williams Capital Group L.P.

His wish list for 2009: "I hope more shoes don't drop in January, and I really hope that come March that the [government bailout] money is able to do what the people giving the money expect. I hope the automakers don't need any more. I hope the plan comes to fruition."

Floor traders, as they do every year on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, gathered for a moment at the New York Stock Exchange to sing "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie." The tradition has roots in the Great Depression.

Yesterday's stock moves were considered largely inconsequential. Trading volumes were extremely low ahead of Christmas, and the markets closed early at 1 p.m. And with only four trading days left in 2008, most buying and selling appeared to be investors' attempts to dress up their portfolios after a year of unprecedented market turmoil.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 48.99, or 0.58 percent, to 8,468.48, after falling for five straight sessions. The blue-chip index is well off its November lows, but still down for the typically strong month of December.

Broader stock indicators also gained. The Standard & Poor's 500 index futures rose 4.99, or 0.58 percent, to 868.15, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 3.36, or 0.22 percent, to 1,524.90.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 3-2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume amounted to 403.7 million shares.

Bond prices, like stocks, were little changed. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.19 percent from 2.18 percent late Tuesday.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies. Gold prices rose.

Light, sweet crude for February delivery fell $3.63 to settle at $35.35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The Nymex, like the stock and bond markets, will be closed today and reopen tomorrow.