By Angela Moon
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged up on Wednesday, with the Dow rising for the ninth straight session to another record, buoyed by surprisingly strong retail sales that suggested the economy is gaining momentum.
The Dow Jones industrial average's nine-day winning streak is the longest consecutive run since November 1996.
But trading volume was light. Moves have been muted in recent days as investors consolidate positions after a strong run-up in the first three months of the year. Still, weakness in stocks has been met with buying, which helped propel the market's advance.
The broader S&P 500 is within striking distance of its all-time closing high of 1,565.15 and about 1 percent away from all-time intraday high of 1,576.09 - both set in 2007.
"I think we will soon see the S&P at all-time high levels. I don't think the market has topped yet, and there is still strength to move the market higher," said Ari Wald, technical strategist at C&Co/PrinceRidge in New York.
"Will we see a correction of 10 percent or so soon? Not imminently. We have not seen a divergence of behavior yet where participants become more selective on which stocks to buy."
International Business Machine (IBM.N) and Boeing Co (BA.N) were the Dow's top two gainers. IBM shot up 0.7 percent to $212.06. Boeing also jumped 0.7 percent - to $84.75 at the close.
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) gained 5.22 points, or 0.04 percent, to 14,455.28, another record closing high. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) advanced 2.04 points, or 0.13 percent, to 1,554.52. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC) gained 2.80 points, or 0.09 percent, to end at 3,245.12.
Signs of strength in the economy and the Federal Reserve's easy monetary policy have helped U.S. equities accelerate their advance. The blue-chip Dow is up 10.3 percent for the year and the benchmark S&P 500 index has gained 9 percent.
Wednesday's retail sales report reinforced the view that the U.S. economy has momentum, even with the obstacles the recovery is facing. Sales increased 1.1 percent in February, the largest increase since September.
Investors had been looking for signs of any impact on spending from stubbornly high unemployment and a higher payroll tax that went into effect at the start of the year.
The Morgan Stanley retail index (.MVR) gained 0.7 percent.
Coach (COH.N) shares rose 1.8 percent to $49.67 after Citigroup raised its rating on the luxury leather goods company's stock to "buy" from "neutral.
Walgreen (WAG.N) jumped 4.2 percent to $42.78 after UBS raised its rating to a "buy" from "neutral", and lifted its price target to $48 from $41 on the stock of the largest U.S. drugstore chain.
But Express Inc (EXPR.N) shares slid 3.2 percent to $18.25 after the apparel retailer posted fourth-quarter earnings and said it was off to a slow start in the first quarter.
Spectrum Pharmaceuticals (SPPI.O) shares lost 37.3 percent to $7.79 after the biotechnology company forecast full-year sales well below analysts' estimates.
Volume was below average, with roughly 5.5 billion shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.
Advancers outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange by a ratio of 17 to 13. On the Nasdaq, the positive breadth was slightly wider, with about seven stocks rising for every five that fell.