A robust report on U.S. retail sales, right in the middle of the holiday shopping season, pushed stocks sharply higher Thursday.
However at the close on Wall Street, the gains had fallen back. The Dow Jones industrial average, which at one point topped 200 points, closed up 63.2 points, or 0.3 percent, at 17,596.3. The Dow fell 268 points the day before, its worst drop in two months. The Standard & Poor's 500 index held on to 9.2 points, or 0.5 percent, at 2,035.3. The Nasdaq composite added 24.1 points, or 0.5 percent, to close at 4,708.2.
Consumer discretionary stocks were among the biggest gainers. The S&P 500's consumer discretionary sector rose 1.6 percent, led by companies such as Coach, Macy's, Mattel and Tiffany.
U.S. retail sales perked up in November, the start of the holiday shopping season, led by online purchases and sales of autos, clothing and electronics. Retail sales rose 0.7 percent last month, the U.S. Commerce Department said. Falling gasoline prices led to a decline of 0.8 percent at gas stations, but that freed up money that could be spent elsewhere.
Investors continue to watch the price of crude oil, which continued its sharp decline. Oil was hit hard Wednesday following a report that U.S. stockpiles hit a multiyear high. Oil was down 61 cents to $60.36 a barrel, after plunging $2.88 a barrel on Wednesday. It also fell $2.79 a barrel on Monday. The price of oil is the lowest it's been in five years.