Stocks Finish Up, But Santa Skips Wall St.

Stocks finished higher Friday on a day when Wall Street looked like a ghost town, but the week ended without a visit from a much-anticipated Santa Claus rally.

The Dow industrials closed with a gain of more than 0.5 percent to lead the major indexes. Techs were weak during the day, and the Nasdaq barely eked out positive numbers to close out an ugly week. The Standard & Poor's 500 posted gains that mirrored the Dow.

For the weak, the Nasdaq fell about 2.3 percent and the S&P 500 about 1.7, while the Dow was off less than 1 percent. The losses thwarted hopes of a Santa Claus rally, and traders now looked toward the inauguration of Barack Obama as president for the next psychological boost to move the market.

With volume about a third of the norm the session was a snoozer, and gave further rise to belief that after a year of historic tumult, the market was likely to close 2008 with little fanfare.

"I've never seen a session so unremarkable in 20 years of being down here," Gordon Charlop, of Rosenblatt Securities, said on CNBC. "I think people are just waiting to turn the page on 2008."

Stocks were unable to gain any traction all week as dismal retail sales and the Bernie Madoff alleged hedge fund swindle dominated the news cycle.

While there was little news to move the market, investors were focusing on developments regarding GMAC Financial Services, which the government threw a lifeline late Wednesday, granting its request to become a bank holding company to tap federal loans. The move is significant because it will give the company access to funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

On the heels of that approval, GM shares surged while Ford Motor also benefited from positive momentum on the development.

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Retailers were among the most active stocks in the session. Total holiday sales excluding auto sales were down 5.5 percent to 8 percent. E-commerce was one of the few bright spots.

Jones Apparel stock soared and led the S&P after the company said it reduced its $1.25 billion lines of credit into a single line worth $600 million.

Amazon shares gained after the online retailer said its 2008 holiday sales were its best ever. But the stock was well off its highs for the day following the statement, which was vague on specifics.

And Apple shares also were higher as iPod sales were strong over the holidays as well and Wal-Mart was set to begin selling the iPhone 3G starting Sunday.

In the energy sector, oil prices rose above $37 a barrel after the UAE cut supplies.

Though there was considerable doubt over whether crude could sustain any type of rally, Friday's gain pushed shares of Dow component ExxonMobil higher.

Pharmaceutical giant Merck was the biggest drag on the Dow, which was split almost dead-even with winners and losers. Alcoa was among the index's biggest winners after GM.

The S&P saw gains limited as publicly traded realty companies took a beating, led by Kimco Realty.

Elsewhere, King Pharmaceutical dropped on news that it will be able to buy Alpharma but must sell some assets related to Alpharma's Kadian painkiller.

Both U.S. stock and bond markets are open for a full day and Treasurys prices were higheras plunging yields failed to stem the desire for safety.

Major European markets were closed for the Boxing Day holiday. Asian markets were mixed, with Japan closing up 1.6% and bit South Korea ending lower.