Stocks Tick Higher on Last Day of '08

Will Santa squeak in a rally before the ball drops?

Early moves suggest it could happen: Stocks continued to rise Tuesday, adding to the more than 2-percent gainlogged on Wednesday.

The U.S. bond market closed early today. The stock market is open until its usual time, 4 p.m.

Of course, investors are already turning to 2009, visions of a recovery dancing in their heads.

And, while the pros disagree on when it will happen, they agree on one thing: It will. So start buying.

"You get in now," Bret Wilsey, president of Wilsey Asset Management, told CNBC. "I don’t know when it’s going to go but if I can get a 30% plus return ... by January 2010, I’ll be very happy," he said. "But I’d be afraid of missing it and waiting too long."

Steve Grasso from Stuart Frankel added, "I think you’ve got probably a couple of months left to make sure you don’t miss the rally."

The last economic data point of the year was a mixed bag: Initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped by 94,000last week to 492,000, the largest drop since 1992. Economists had expected a drop, but only about 21,000. However, continuing claims for unemployment benefits hit 4.506 million, the highest since 1982.

In early trading, the three biggest gainers on the Dow were Alcoa , Caterpillar and Boeing . The bottom three were Citigroup , JPMorgan and General Motors .

GM's stock took a hit following news that its GMAC financing arm may not have enough capital to become a bank-holding company.

>> Click here to track all 30 stocks in the Dow.

Retail stocks got an after-Christmas present from investors, with Jones New York , Nordstrom and Macy's leading the S&P 500. Tiffany wasn't far behind.

>> See how retailers fared this season at CNBC's Holiday Central.

Motorola shares rose after the handset maker said it will lay off 400 more employeesin the fourth quarter than it originally planned, resulting in additional charges. In October, Motorola said it would lay off 1,500 people in the fourth quarter.

Elsewhere in tech land, Dell shares skidded following news that the top two executives at Dell are leavingthe No. 2 PC maker as it struggles to reclaim some market share from larger rival Hewlett-Packard .

(Are stocks or real estate the better investment for '09? Click on the video at left.)

Meanwhile, investors are still reeling from the Bernard Madoff scandal, with federal prosecutors beginning to consider what role offshore fund operations may have played in the $50 billion Ponzi scheme that Madoff is accused of orchestrating.

The Austrian government may be forced to run Bank Medici after the Madoff scandal hurt the private bank, according to a report in an Austrian newspaper.

In media news, Viacom said it will pull its cable television networks, including Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and MTV, off Time Warner Cable if the companies do not reach a deal on carriage fees by Jan. 1.

Most Asian markets closed the session in the green but suffered record losses for the whole year.

Australia delivered its worst year on record in 2008, posting a loss of 41 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index snapped a five-year winning streak to plunge 48 percent in 2008, its worst performance since a 60 percent slump in 1974 fuelled by the world oil crisis.

European stocks were up in weak trade, but were set to end the year on a dismal note, with the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares losing nearly 45 percent this year, the worst performance in its history.

Still to Come:

WEDNESDAY: Several world markets closed for New Year's Eve; U.S. bond market closes at 2pm-Stock market open until 4pm
THURSDAY: All U.S. financial markets closed for New Year's day
FRIDAY: ISM manufacturing index

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