Retail stocks inched up today before Wall Street traders headed off for last-minute Christmas shopping.

In half-day holiday trading session, the S&P 500 Retailing Industry Group gained 0.2 percent, or 0.97 points, to 654.07, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.4 percent, or 51.76 points, to 13,139.08.

Investors are weighing the prospects of both a disappointing holiday shopping season and the fiscal cliff — a set of tax hikes and spending cuts that kick in at the end of the year if the White House and Congress can’t find a compromise.

The gainers today included J.C. Penney Co. Inc., up 1.4 percent to $19.87; Inc., 0.7 percent to $258.62, and The TJX Cos. 0.6 percent to $42.21.

Of the international markets that were open, the FTSE 100 in London rose 0.2 percent to 5,954.18, the CAC 40 in Paris slipped 0.2 percent to 3,652.61, and the SSE Composite Index in Shanghai gained 0.3 percent to 2,159.05.

As of 1:30 p.m. EST, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said Santa Claus had finished his deliveries in Asia and moved on to the Middle East. He was headed for Yemen and more than 2.24 billion gifts had already been delivered.

It is still unclear what the impact on retailer’s margins will be.

NORAD’s predecessor began tracking St. Nick’s Christmas Eve flight in 1955, when A Sears Roebuck & Co. promotion encouraging kids to call Santa featured the wrong telephone number.

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