U.S. Stocks Reach New Record Highs Amid Easing Middle East Tensions

After ending the previous session mostly higher, stocks saw some further upside during trading on Thursday. With the continued upward move, the major averages ended the session at new record closing highs. The major averages finished the day firmly in positive territory. The Dow climbed 211.81 points or 0.7 percent to 28,956.90, the Nasdaq advanced 74.18 points or 0.8 percent to 9,203.43 and the S&P 500 rose 21.65 points or 0.7 percent to 3,274.70. Easing concerns about the conflict between the U.S. and Iran contributed to the continued strength on Wall Street amid signs of de-escalation. President Donald Trump indicated in remarks on Wednesday that the U.S. would not respond militarily to the Iranian missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. Trump had previously threatened a harsh response to any attack by Iran but now says he will only impose new sanctions on Iran's already struggling economy. The latest developments seem to confirm earlier views that the notable pullback by the markets last Friday was as a temporary blip in the recent upward momentum that has continually propelled stocks to new record highs. Nonetheless, overall trading activity was somewhat subdued ahead of the release of the Labor Department's monthly jobs report on Friday. Economists expect employment to increase by 164,000 jobs in December after spiking by 266,000 jobs in November, while the unemployment rate is expected to hold at 3.5 percent. With the more closely watched monthly report looming, the Labor Department released a report this morning showing first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by more than expected in the week ended January 4th. The report said initial jobless claims dropped to 214,000, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week's revised level of 223,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to edge down to 220,000 from the 222,000 originally reported for the previous week. Despite the advance by the broader markets, most of the major sectors ended the day showing only modest moves. Software stocks extended the strong upward move seen in the previous session, however, with the Dow Jones U.S. Software Index climbing by 1.1 percent to a new record closing high. Oil, oil service and tobacco stocks also saw some strength on the day, while gold stocks moved to the downside amid a continued decrease by the price of the precious metal. The Labor Department's monthly jobs report is likely to be in focus on Friday, although traders are also likely to keep an eye on any developments overseas.