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U.S. Stocks Extending Upward Trend To Reach New Record Highs

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Stocks have moved mostly higher in morning trading on Thursday, with the major averages once again climbing to new record intraday highs. The advance on the day extends an upward trend that has been largely uninterrupted for over three months.

Currently, the major averages are hovering firmly in positive territory. The Dow is up 177.98 points or 0.6 percent at 29,208.20, the Nasdaq is up 68.04 points or 0.7 percent at 9,326.73 and the S&P 500 is up 17.47 points or 0.5 percent at 3,306.76.

The markets continue to benefit from recent upward momentum following the official signing of the U.S.-China phase one trade deal on Wednesday.

The deal did not address some major issues and leaves significant tariffs in place, but the agreement has still helped lift some of the uncertainty generated by the trade war between the two economic superpowers.

A batch of largely upbeat U.S. economic data has also contributed to the buying interest, with a report from the Labor Department showing an unexpected decrease in initial jobless claims in the week ended January 11th.

The Labor Department said initial jobless claims fell to 204,000, a decrease of 10,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 214,000. The drop came as a surprise to economists, who had expected jobless claims to inch up to 216,000.

The Commerce Department also released a report showing U.S. retail sales rose in line with economist estimates in the month of December, with a sharp pullback in auto sales more than offset by strength in other areas.

The report said retail sales climbed by 0.3 percent in December, matching the upwardly revised increase in November.

Economists had expected retail sales to rise by 0.3 percent compared to the 0.2 percent uptick originally reported for the previous month.

Excluding auto sales, retail sales increased by 0.7 percent in December after coming in unchanged in November. Ex-auto sales had been expected to climb by 0.5 percent.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve also released a report showing a substantial acceleration in the pace of growth in regional manufacturing activity in the month of January.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Home Builders released a report showing a slight pullback in homebuilder confidence in January, although confidence remains at an elevated level.

The report said the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index edged down to 75 in January after jumping to 76 in December.

The modest decrease, which matched economist estimates, came after the index reached its highest level since June of 1999 in the previous month.

Brokerage stocks are seeing considerable strength in morning trading, with the NYSE Arca Broker/Dealer Index climbing by 1.7 percent to its best intraday level in almost two years.

Morgan Stanley (MS) is leading the sector higher after reporting fourth quarter earnings that exceeded expectations on revenues that came in well above estimates.

Energy stocks have also shown a strong move to the upside amid an increase by the price of crude oil, while notable strength is also visible among tobacco, semiconductor, and computer hardware stocks.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly higher during trading on Thursday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index inched up by 0.1 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose by 0.4 percent, although China's Shanghai Composite Index bucked the uptrend and slid by 0.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets have turned mixed on the day. While the French CAC 40 Index has inched up by 0.1 percent, the German DAX Index is down by 0.1 percent and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is down by 0.4 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries are seeing modest weakness after trending higher over the past few sessions. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is up by 1.6 basis points at 1.804 percent.

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