Market Recap: S&P Moves Positive, But Tech-Heavy Nasdaq Still in the Red for 2011

Markets closed up on Wall Street today: Dow +1.02%, S&P +0.90%, Nasdaq +0.74%, Oil +0.23%, Gold -0.17%.

On the commodities front, Oil (NYSE:USO) climbed to $99.81 a barrel. Precious metals were mixed, with Gold (NYSE:GLD) falling to $1,607.90 an ounce while Silver (NYSE:SLV) climbed 0.15% to settle at $29.09.

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Today’s markets were up because:

1) U.S. economic data. Orders for U.S. durable goods jumped in November by the most in four months, helping to offset weaker-than-forecast consumer spending. Sales of new homes rose in November to a seven-month high, while auto sales were up 3 percent. But it is Thursday’s jobless claims report, which showed another weekly decline in initial unemployment benefits claims for the week ended December 17, that trumps all, as Americans look forward to a steadily declining unemployment rate.

2) Payroll tax cut. Congress passed a two-month payroll tax cut extension today, which will buy them more time to effect an extension that will keep the payroll tax rate at 4.2 percent through 2012. Without any legislative action before December 31, the payroll tax rate would have jumped back up to 6.2 percent of wages on the first of the year, costing the average American $1,000. Roughly 160 million Americans benefit for the cut, which the Obama administration put in place for all of 2011.

3) Tech. After four days of gains, the S&P 500 cut its losses for the year, leaving the tech-heavy Nasdaq the only major U.S. index down for the year. Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has been a drag on the Nasdaq, as its share price more than halved this year, and fell from a $298 peak in July to $73 per share today. Still, the Nasdaq was up 0.74 percent today, led higher by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), both of which will, short of a catastrophe, close the year significantly higher than they began trading on January 3. Both Google and Apple are still battling for mobile market share with their Android and iOS devices, but both have emerged triumphant as the market for both continues to expand at the expense of other phone makers.

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