Better-than-expected readings on fourth-quarter economic growth and January consumer sentiment drove retail stocks up 0.9 percent by noon Friday.

 

The sector had risen as much as 1.6 percent in morning trading.

 

The S&P Retail Index reclaimed the 400 mark was ahead 3.04 points, to 401.38, by midday leading the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which was down 3.63 points to 10,115.83.

 

Retail gainers included Urban Outfitters Inc., up 5.2 percent to $32.10; AnnTaylor Stores Corp., 3.5 percent to $12.77; J. Crew Group, 3.3 percent to $39.79, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 2.2 percent to $53.75. In the international markets, the Nikkei 225 fell 2.1 percent to 10,198.04 in Tokyo and the Hang Seng Index fell 1.2 percent in 20,121.99. Investors in London and Paris were ending the day with advances.

 

The Commerce Department said the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter, well ahead of the 4.8 percent economists expected and the 2.2 percent rise in the third quarter. The growth was fueled by private inventory investments, exports and personal consumption expenditures.

 

And the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumer’s Index of Consumer Confidence hit at two-year high of 74.4 percent this month, up from 72.5 last month and 61.2 a year ago. Wall Street was looking for the index to advance to a lesser 73.

 

Despite the rise, shoppers are still expected to be careful.

 

“Persistently high joblessness as well as stagnating incomes will mean that consumers will remain cautious spenders, preferring to add to their savings and reserve funds,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist of the Surveys of Consumers.

 

For complete coverage, see Monday’s issue of WWD.

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