US stocks edged towards the finale of a banner 2013 in buoyant fashion this week, repeatedly reaching new records on a string of solid economic data.
Markets eased on Friday, with all three indices retreating slightly from Thursday records. But that came on the heels of three straight record-setting days earlier in the holiday-shortened week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 257.27 (1.59 percent) higher for the week at 16,478.41. Thursday's record close marked the 50th record settlement for the year, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
The S&P 500 also repeatedly broke records, ending the week 23.08 (1.27 percent) higher at 1,841.40. The tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index closed 51.85 (1.26 percent) higher at 4,156.59.
"Over all, you're seeing a slow drift higher in stocks this week, as many traders have called it a good year and looking forward to 2014," said David Levy, portfolio manager at Kenjol Capital Management,
The stretch between the Christmas and New Years holidays has historically been a winner for investors in a phenomenon known as a "Santa Claus" rally.
Investopedia said reasons stocks usually rise during this period include "happiness around Wall Street" and "the fact that the pessimists are usually on vacation this week."
This time around, unexpectedly strong economic data also propelled markets, with low trading volumes accentuating the trends.
Data showed US consumer spending rose in November for the second straight month. There were also better-than-expected reports on new home sales, durable goods orders and new unemployment claims.
"I sense that all the ingredients of a recovery are at hand," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank, who called the latest batch of numbers "really, really encouraging."
The better data come on the heels of last week's decision by the US Federal Reserve to begin scaling back its bond-buying program in light of the "growing underlying strength in the broader economy."
Stocks have soared throughout 2013, with the S&P 500 gaining more than 29 percent.
Ablin said the trajectory in 2014 will depend on corporate earnings. Stocks rose in 2013 even as revenues stagnated, as many companies cut costs to maintain profitability.
That will not be enough in 2014, given current valuations, Ablin said.
"As long as revenues and earnings are rising, we can have stocks rise too," Ablin said.
Levy said a key factor could be how quickly interest rates rise. So far, bond yields have edged higher in the wake of last week's announcement. But a sudden rise could crimp investor enthusiasm.
"While there's still room for stocks to move higher, I wouldn't expect as strong a year in 2014 as we've seen in 2013," Levy said.
Levy said the "jury is out" on the economy, even though the trend is positive. For one thing, the 2013 holiday shopping season has been generally disappointing.
"We're not seeing strong economic data," Levy said. "We're seeing stronger economic data than we've previously seen. The economy continues to muddle along. The consumer still has an uphill fight."
Corporate news highlights included Apple's deal with China Mobile to make its iPhones more widely available in the massive Chinese market. The hard-won deal took years to negotiate and could double Apple's iPhone presence in China.
UPS and FexEx were also scrutinized after some consumers did not receive holiday packages by Christmas, despite promises by retailers.
However, shares in both companies rose, suggesting investors were cheered by the news of lofty business more than they were troubled by complaints on Twitter that likened the shippers to the "Grinch who stole Christmas."
Shares in Target underperformed the S&P 500 as news dribbled out about its massive data breach in the first part of the Christmas holiday season. On Friday, Target said hackers obtained "strongly encrypted" debit-card data, but that it was confident hackers could not have obtained PIN numbers.
Analysts expect another fairly quiet week next week, owing to the New Year holiday. But there will again be a handful of economic reports, including the Case-Shiller index of home prices and the Conference Board's report on consumer confidence.