New york stock exchange tradersREUTERS/Carlo AllegriTraders laugh as they cut up a crumb cake on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York December 22, 2014.

For a while there, traders and investors lost faith in Santa Claus rallies. The stock market has erased all of its December losses and now sits at a record level.

First, the scoreboard:

  • Dow: 17,959.4, +154.6, (+0.8%)
  • S&P 500: 2,078.5, +7.8, (+0.3%)
  • Nasdaq: 4,781.4, +16.0, (+0.3%)

And now, the top stories on Friday:

1. US futures were already pointing to a higher open. Stocks remained in the green for most of the day. While the S&P 500 set a record closing high, the December 5 intraday record high still holds at 2,079.4.

2. The pace of exising home sales plunged 6.1%in November to an annualized rate of 4.93 million units. This was much worse than the 1.1% decline expected by economists. “Fewer people bought homes last month despite interest rates being at their lowest levels of the year,” said the NAR’s Lawrence Yun. “The stock market swings in October may have impacted some consumers’ psyche and therefore led to fewer November closings. Furthermore, rising home values are causing more investors to retreat from the market.”

3. Despite the disappointing report, markets brushed it off. Perhaps traders were focused on the positives of the report like BMO Capital Markets economist Jennifer Lee. “Of the closings, first-time homebuyers made up 31%, the largest share since October 2012,” Lee wrote. “Granted this is still far from the 40%-to-45% range during normal times but after spending the last 19 months below 30%, this increase is a very encouraging development.”

4. Warm weather has boosted natural gas inventory levels, and that’s been crushing prices. Natural gas futures plunged 9% to $US3.144 per million BTUs, the lowest level since January 9, 2013. This is good news for consumers.

5. Also good news for consumers, gas prices continue to fall thanks to low oil costs. According to a Lundberg survey released Sunday, that average price of gasoline in the US fell $US0.25 in the past two weeks to $US2.47 per gallon. This is the lowest level in five-and-a-half years. American consumers should enjoy it while it lasts; energy pros all expect oil prices to rally from here.
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