Retail stocks gained 1.4 percent Wednesday as a solid report on private-sector employment gave investors additional confidence in the economic recovery.

This story first appeared in the March 31, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The S&P Retail Index rose 6.99 points to 519.71 as the Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 0.6 percent, or 71.60 points, to close at 12,350.61. Both measures are within striking distance of their highs for the past year.

Among those gaining ground and posting new 52-week highs during the day were New York & Company Inc., which closed up 5.5 percent to $7.25; Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., up 3.8 percent to $50.55; Ann Inc., 3.5 percent to $28.92; Express Inc., 2.5 percent to $19.21, and Ascena Retail Group Inc., 1.7 percent to $32.43.

The March ADP National Employment Report showed that the private sector added a seasonally adjusted 201,000 jobs over February.

“The average monthly increase in employment over the last four months — December through March — has been 211,000, consistent with a gradual, if uneven, decline in the unemployment rate,” the report said. “This is almost three times the average monthly gain of 74,000 over the preceding four months of August through November.”

In the past year, the retail index’s high point was reached on Feb. 16, when it peaked at 529.29 in intraday trading.