With no economic reports on Wednesday and bond markets closed for the Veteran’s Day, Wall Street was witness to a quiet trading session, but stocks managed to inch higher on expectations interest rates would remain at a record low for some time.  Also, strong Chinese manufacturing and retail sales data lifted investor sentiments.  Gold prices touched an all-time high.  

The Dow Jones industrial average, which hit an intraday high of 10,341, advanced 44 points, or 0.4%, to close at 10,291.26. The S&P 500 added 6 points, or 0.5%, to close at 1,098.51, and the tech-laden Nasdaq composite rose 16 points, or 0.7%, to end the day at 2,166.90.  On the New York Stock Exchange, 19 stocks were higher in price for every 11 that declined

Nine of the ten S&P500 industry groups ended in the green, with financials (+1.3%), basic materials (+1.0%) and technology (+0.7%) leading the gainers.  Utilities fell 0.2%.  On the DJIA, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) led the advancing issues as the firm’s CEO noted the integration of Merrill was running ahead of schedule, and will result in greater-than-anticipated cost savings in 2009.  Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) advanced 1.3% ahead of this morning’s results.

Shares in home building companies rose after Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL) said late Tuesday that signed contracts for new homes in its latest quarter jumped 42%.  Toll rose $3.02, or 16.4%, to $21.41.  Pulte Homes Inc. (NYSE:PHM) advanced 77 cents, or 8.1%, to $10.23, while Beazer Homes (NYSE:BZH) advanced 63 cents, or 12.4%, to $5.73.

Meanwhile, the greenback plunged to its lowest level since 2008 and ended the day just below $1.50 against the euro.  The steady decline in the greenback has been precipitated by continuing suggestions from the Fed that interest rates will remain low for an extended period as the recovery strengthens.  Across the globe, markets have interpreted this language as suggesting a mid-2010 timetable for raising rates. 

However, gold prices steered clear of wavering sentiment and hit an all-time high Wednesday at $1114.60 per troy ounce, up $12.10.  China reported greater-than-expected industrial output and retail sales, sending resource-related shares higher. Commodity prices also rose, with the broad-based, DJ-UBS index up 0.6% to 133.408. Crude prices gained, up 0.3% to $79.28.

Today’s retailers’ results will be an indication of consumers’ appetites for goods.  Although the third quarter is seasonally slow, the current quarter numbers will be closely watched as the holiday season approaches.  Yesterday’s reported loss at Macy’s (NYSE:M) was less than anticipated; however, its raised fourth quarter guidance failed to meet expectations. Companies reporting results today include: Kohl’s (NYSE:KSS), Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN), Urban Outfitters (NASDAQ:URBN) and another key consumer-driven firm, Disney (NYSE:DIS).

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