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While you were sleeping: Shoppers lift mood

While you were sleeping: Shoppers lift mood

(BusinessDesk) December 15 - Stocks on Wall Street and in Europe extended recent gains on signs of better-than-expected consumer spending in the world’s largest economy.

Data showed that sales at U.S. retailers rose more than forecast in November, while optimism among small businesses climbed to the highest level in three years.

In midday trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.6%, while the S&P 500 Index gained 0.39% and the Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.37%.

The jump in retail sales is "indicative of an economy that is beginning to recover some strength," Janna Sampson, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois, told Reuters.

Investors were waiting for the Fed’s latest take on the economy. Policy makers at the U.S. central bank were meeting today for the last time this year. Their statement - expected at about 2.15pm Washington time - is expected to reiterate plans to buy US$600 billion of Treasuries through June 2011 to bolster growth.

The National Retail Federation, an American industry group, boosted its holiday sales forecast, expecting retail sales in November and December, excluding cars, gasoline and meals at restaurants and online sales, to be up 3.3%. That compares with its previous forecast for a 2.3% gain.

"The start to the holiday season has surpassed all expectations," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

Another group, the International Council of Shopping Centers, also lifted its holiday forecast range by half a percentage point to between 3.5% and 4%, saying it expected the strongest holiday season since 2005.

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U.S. Treasuries declined as today’s optimistic economic data lowered the appeal of fixed-income securities. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note climbed to 3.36% from 3.28% late Monday, as economic growth forecast were being sharpened.

"The strong data points to an upward revision in third-quarter GDP from 2.5% to 2.9%, with Q4 also being in a 2.5% to 3% range," Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist and managing director in Jefferies & Co's fixed-income division, told Reuters.

It wasn’t good news everywhere. Best Buy Co plunged 14%, the largest decliner in the S&P 500, after the world’s largest consumer-electronics retailer posted third-quarter earnings that fell short of analyst estimates. Its annual earnings forecast also failed to meet analyst estimates.

President Barack Obama met Warren Buffett and Bill Gates for a conversation that touched on how to expand the economy, the White House said.

The meeting, also attended by Gates' wife Melinda, focused on an initiative to encourage the wealthiest Americans to give the majority of their wealth to charity.

"During the visit, they also discussed ideas for growing the economy and making America more competitive including investment in education to better prepare the next generation and investing in innovative areas with opportunity for growth," the White House said in a statement.

The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 Index gained 0.2%, extending its climb for the seventh day and closing at its highest level in more than two years.


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