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US: Stocks gain as December auto sales surge


[NEW YORK] Shares of automakers surged Wednesday on better-than-expected December auto sales, while retailers and pharmaceutical equities also gained on a good day for US stocks.

General Motors easily topped expectations for December sales and gave a bullish appraisal of auto industry trends, while Ford and others, also bested expectations. GM shot up 5.5 per cent and Ford 4.6 per cent.

Stocks are gaining on the "combination of improving fundamentals and the prospects of a pro-growth administration," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.3 per cent to 19,942.16, taking it back to within striking distance of 20,000 points.

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The broad-based S&P 500 rose 0.6 per cent to 2,270.75, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.9 per cent to 5,477.00.

Retailers were strong on better sentiment about the holiday shopping season, with Best Buy rising 2.4 per cent, Williams-Sonoma 1.6 per cent, Bed Bath & Beyond 3.0 per cent and Wal-Mart Stores 0.6 per cent.

Word that holiday sales picked up at the end of December "changed the impression that the holiday shopping season was a diaster and it turned out to be much closer to what had been expected," Mr Hogan said.

Pharmaceutical stocks continued to rise, with Pfizer winning 0.9 per cent, Amgen 1.4 per cent and Gilead Sciences 3.0 per cent.

Delta Air Lines shares gained 2.5 per cent as it met or exceeded expectations for several key benchmarks in December. Revenues dipped 2.5 to 3.0 per cent, but it was a smaller decline than the three to five per cent drop previously projected.

Tesla Motors surged 4.6 per cent as it announced that it has begun mass production of energy-saving batteries that it vows will take electric cars mainstream.