Russell 2000 marks 13th record of 2020 but Dow, S&P 500 log modest gains in penultimate session before Christmas

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Most U.S. stock benchmarks finished modestly higher Wednesday, losing some momentum in the final hour of trade, as investors shook off economic reports that painted a mixed, and unsteady picture of the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, ahead of the Christmas holiday. The small-capitalization Russell 2000 index outstripped its larger-cap brethren, finishing at a record, up more than 1%, and marking its 13th of 2020. Meanwhile, the larger-cap S&P 500 index ended up less than 0.1% at around 3,690, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.4% to about 30,129, while the Nasdaq Composite Index closed 0.3% at 12,271. U.S. economic data out Wednesday was mixed. There were 803,000 applications for jobless benefits in the most recent week, a decline of 89,000 from the prior week though the labor market overall remains weak. Personal incomes slid 1.1% in November and consumer pending fell 0.4%, as did the Michigan Consumer Sentiment reading, and new home sales. Shares of Walmart Inc. edged 0.6% lower, after the Trump administration sued the retailer, claiming it ignored warnings from its own pharmacist and inadequately screened questionable prescriptions that fueled the opioid crisis. Investors were watching developments in fiscal relief after Trump also challenged Congress to increase direct payments to American workers to $2,000 from $600 as a part of the coronavirus aid package.
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