By  on February 17, 2012

U.S. retail stocks continued to break new ground Friday as markets advanced.

The S&P Retail Index ended up 1.2 percent, or 6.79 points, to 571.55 and traded as high as 572.18 — a new peak for the index, which goes back to 2002. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.4 percent, or 46.02 points, to 12,950.10.

The day's gainers included Dillard's Inc., up 5.1 percent to $51.48; Rue21 Inc., 4.2 percent to $26.33; Urban Outfitters Inc., 3.7 percent to $28.48; Chico's FAS Inc., 3.7 percent to $13.03, and Destination Maternity Corp. 3.4percent to $16.74.

Investors continue to keep a close eye on Greece, which is hoping to avoid a default by securing another round of bailout funds. Retail, which last peaked in the summer, has been having a resurgence this year as investors look toward better times ahead despite a still-weak recovery. In Europe, major stock markets closed on a high note, with the DAX in Frankfurt and the CAC 40 in Paris leading the upswing.

The German and French markets each rose 1.4 percent, with the former ending at 6,848.03, and the latter closing at 3,439.62. The FTSE MIB in Milan rose 1.1 percent to 16,547.21, while the FTSE 100 posted the smallest gain, rising just 0.3 percent to 5,905.07.

Friday’s gains came against a backdrop of a stronger-than-expected jump in U.K. retail sales of 0.9 percent in January, according to the Office for National Statistics, and a new pact between France and the U.K.

The two countries have signed a deal to fortify their cooperation in developing civil nuclear energy. The move will create 1,500 U.K. jobs, and generate millions of pounds in commercial deals.

Among the stocks perking up in the region were Carrefour, which rose 3.4 percent to 17.95 euros; Hugo Boss, which climbed 2.1 percent to 72.64 euros, and Marcolin, which rocketed 6.13 percent to 3.88 euros.

Losing ground were Hermes, which tumbled 2 percent to 281.70 euros; French Connection, which fell 1.3 percent to 0.47 pounds; and Arcandor, which retreated 3.8 percent to 0.05 euros. The euro traded at $1.32, while the pound traded at $1.58.

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