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US: Stocks scale new peaks on retailer results; oil falls

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[NEW YORK] Two top US equity indexes scaled record peaks on Thursday after strong earnings reports from retailers, outpacing European shares which were little changed, while oil prices plunged after top crude producers extended output cuts for a shorter period than expected.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite indexes hit record intraday and closing highs, with the benchmark S&P 500 index touching 2,418.71, after retailers such as PVH Corp and Sears surged on strong results. The S&P consumer discretionary index closed up nearly 1 per cent.

European shares struggled for direction, with investors hunting for fresh catalysts as a blistering earnings season that helped stocks surge to new highs nears its end.

"There's no clear and present danger on the horizon," Jimmy Chang, chief investment strategist at Rockefeller & Co in New York, said in reference to the gains in US stocks. "The lack of fear, the complacency is supporting the market." Energy shares on both sides of the Atlantic tumbled, however, after a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) disappointed some investors. The S&P energy sector closed down 1.8 per cent, while Europe's STOXX 600 oil and gas index closed down 1.2 per cent.

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US crude prices plummeted as much as 5.7 per cent to US$48.45 a barrel, their lowest level in a week, after Opec agreed to extend output cuts for nine months, dousing hopes for deeper, longer cuts. US crude prices settled down US$2.46 at US$48.90 a barrel. Brent crude settled down US$2.50 at US$51.46 a barrel after touching a 1-1/2-week low of US$51.03 a barrel.

MSCI's world equity index was last up 1.95 points, or 0.42 per cent, at 464.88.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 70.53 points, or 0.34 per cent, at 21,082.95. The S&P 500 closed up 10.68 points, or 0.44 per cent, at 2,415.07. The Nasdaq Composite ended up 42.23 points, or 0.69 per cent, at 6,205.26.

Europe's broad FTSEurofirst 300 index closed down 0.04 per cent at 1,540.78.

The US dollar was little changed against a basket of major currencies a day after Federal Reserve minutes dialed down expectations of the central bank hiking interest rates soon.

Many investors and strategists expect Fed rate hikes to boost the US dollar.

The US dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of six rival currencies, was last roughly flat at 97.224 .

"The minutes sort of made it clear that the Fed wasn't going to be reducing its balance sheet anytime real soon, and the response was negative for the US dollar," said Greg Anderson, global head of foreign exchange strategy at BMO Capital Markets in New York.

US Treasury yields fell slightly on the doubts over whether the Fed would raise interest rates more than once by the end of 2017. Bond yields slipped into the lower end of this week's tight trading range with the benchmark 10-year yield hovering around 2.25 per cent.

US gold futures settled up 0.3 per cent at US$1,256.40.