Stocks advanced Friday after a report showed consumer sentiment improved in early December and retail sales rose much more than expected last month.
The Reuters/University of Michigan gauge of consumers' mood rose to 73.4from 67.4 at the end of November. Economists had only expected the measure to hit 68.5.
Retail sales rose 1.3 percent last month, more than double the 0.6-percent increase economists had expected. Excluding autos, retail sales jumped 1.2 percent, triple the 0.4 percent advance economists expected.
“It looks like households are not a bashful about using their wallets as we thought,” Joel Naroff of Naroff Economics wrote in a note to clients. But "[g]etting this economy moving faster will require the consumer to actually start thinking that spending money is okay," he said.
Among the other data points out this morning, import prices rose 1.7 percent for November and business inventories ticked up 0.2 percent in October.
Still to come: October business inventories at 10 am.
Two straight days of gains have put Wall Street's major averages near break-even for the week, so Friday's action will determine whether the Dow, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq can chalk up their second consecutive weekly gains.
Moody's said the top credit ratings for the U.S. and Britain are not under threat of a downgrade at the moment, though a worst-case scenario could see a cut by 2013. Moody's classifies the U.S. and the U.K. as "resilient" rather than "resistant."
United Technologies was among the biggest gainers on the Dow after the company said late Thursday it expects profits to grow in 2010 after declining this year. The company's projected revenue was above Wall Street's most recent estimates, while the top of its projected earnings per share is also above estimates.
Rounding out the top three were Alcoa and DuPont .
Bank of America rose as Bank of New York Mellon Chief Executive Robert Kelly resurfaced as a possible candidatefor the CEO of Bank of America.
Positive sentiment is also surrounding Dow component Boeing, which says its long awaited 787 Dreamliner aircraft could have its first test flight on December 15.
In the financial space, ING Group said it will repay about $8.27 billion in aid to the Dutch government, about half of what it received during the financial crisis.
Shares of Yahoo also rose after Kaufman Brothers upgraded the company to "buy."