Major U.S. stock indexes moved higher Friday afternoon, with the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor's 500 index on track for new highs. Falling oil and natural gas prices helped bolster expectations for stronger consumer spending heading into next year. Utilities stocks were among the biggest gainers in light trading a day after Christmas.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 62 points, or 0.4 percent, to 18,092 as of 2:17 p.m. The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 10 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,092. The Nasdaq composite added 40 points, or 0.9 percent, to 4,814.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 51 cents to $55.33 a barrel. Oil prices have been a major focus in markets over the past few weeks as they have fallen by about a half since the summer. Natural gas slipped three cents to $3 per 1,000 cubic feet.
THE QUOTE: Investors are cheering the slide in oil and natural gas prices, anticipating the trend should help boost consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy, said Phil Blancato, chief executive and president of Ladenburg Thalmann Asset Management.
Also giving the market a lift: Money managers typically put remaining cash back to work in their funds ahead of the end of the year.
"They realize they're in the strongest spending season of the year, so it's hard not to find good data," Blancato said. "There's lighter volume with people being out of the office, so there's a lot on your side that's going to drive the market."
SECTOR VIEW: All 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index moved higher, led by utilities stocks. The sector is up 28 percent this year. Freeport-McMoRan notched the biggest gain among individual stocks in the S&P 500, adding 85 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $23.76. The mineral assets, oil, and natural gas company announced a successful production test from a well located in South Louisiana. Range Resources declined the most, shedding $1.14, or 2 percent, to $54.59.
BUMPING UP BIOTECH: Shares in two biotech companies surged. Cytokinetics gained 6.1 percent on news the company will continue advancing development of a muscle-weakness treatment with its partner, Astellas Pharma. The stock rose 36 cents to $6.23.
Juno Therapeutics climbed 9.6 percent. The company closed its initial public offering on Wednesday. The stock gained $3.83 to $43.82.
HIGH ON VIRGIN: Virgin America jumped 6.5 percent after several financial firms issued bullish recommendations for the airline company's stock. Its shares added $2.50 to $43.50.
MARKETS OVERSEAS: Major European markets were closed. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.1 percent amid expectations of further government stimulus. South Korea's Kospi gained 0.1 percent. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 2.8 percent, led by gains in transportation and property development shares.
BONDS: U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.25 percent.