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US stocks creep up to new records amid caution


US investors are cautious.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 each repeatedly broke all-time records over the past week. But by Friday neither had managed to rise as much as 0.4 percent in the five sessions.

Friday ended with the S&P 500 managing a minor surge in the final minutes of trade to eke out a fresh record, up 0.39 percent for the week at 2,039.82.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.35 percent for the week, ending at 17,634.74, 18 points below its Thursday record.

Meanwhile the Nasdaq Composite kept up its march to recover from the 2000 dot-com crash that stunned markets. On Friday the heavily tech-oriented gauge finished at 4,688.54, its best level since March 28, 2000.

After a 1.77 percent gain for the week, it nevertheless remained 360 points shy of the all-time high on March 10, 2000.

The widespread caution was clear, with shares at high valuations by a number of measures.

"Neither buyers nor sellers are showing much conviction at this juncture.. it is basically a game of chicken right now to see which way the market turns and, importantly, why it turns (if it turns at all)," said analysts at

"We came so far so fast, it would only be natural to pull back at least a little bit," said Tom Cahill of Ventura Wealth Management.

"Between now and the end of the year, the markets probably will move sideways a little bit and then move a little higher."

- Buoyant collectibles -

Wall Street shares remained supported by firm earnings growth over the past week, with Walmart's forecast-beating third-quarter results Thursday boosting its shares 4.7 percent and propelling the Dow to a new zenith.

For many that was a good sign -- along with a rebound in consumer spending in October reported by the Commerce Department Friday, and the plunge in gasoline prices -- that year-end holiday spending on travel, gifts and restaurants could be strong.

The factors underpinning the gains remain unchanged: the combination of weak economic growth elsewhere and central banks keeping the global markets flush with cheap cash.

Those with surplus have few places to put it; bond yields remain ultra-low.

Stocks still have not shown the froth of the markets for art and other collectibles, where the mega-wealthy continue to bid up the price of famous pieces to stunning levels.

Earlier this week, a 1925 Patek Philippe watch sold for a record $21.3 million in a Geneva auction, and in the same city a sapphire known as the Blue Belle of Asia went for an unprecedented $17.3 million.

In New York, Christie's sold two iconic Andy Warhol paintings for more than $151 million, and Sotheby's auctioned off two Mark Rothko paintings for a combined $76.5 million.

- A Merry Xmas? -

But the gains of the newest tech darlings come close.

Shares (Frankfurt: DI6.F - news) of Chinese online marketer Alibaba passed $115 Friday, up 60 percent since its market debut in September. The price valued it at $286 billion, over $100 billion more than US online retail king Amazon.

The pre-Christmas shopping season will only begin in earnest in the second half of November, and that could set the pace of the markets for the rest of the year.

"The economy is growing reasonably well right now," said Cahill.

"The price of oil continues to go lower, that is good for the consumer. Some analysts believe this could be one of the strongest retail seasons we had in a few years."