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Stocks Close Higher as Dow Edges Toward 18,000

The Santa Claus Rally is alive. U.S. stock markets rose for the fourth straight session Monday, placing the Dow industrials within striking distance of 18,000 and the broader S&P 500 in record territory.

"The U.S. economy seems to be on a steady path upward amid robust job reports and consistent industrial production gains. The unemployment rate has fallen below 6 percent for the first time since the recession. Also, falling commodity prices, specifically crude oil, are leaving more money in consumers' wallets, Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Asset Management, noted in emailed research.

"Generally, we think these positive economic trends could be enough to garner a visit from Old St. Nick," added Stone, referring to the phenomenon known as the Santa Claus rally.

Trading was quiet, however, ahead of the holiday weekend. Stocks didn't charge higher as much as drift toward the gains. The Dow rose nearly 1 percent, or more than 150 points, to close unofficially at 17,959.31. The S&P gained 0.38 percent to end at 2,078.54. It was the 50th record close for the index this year. The Nasdaq rose 0.34 percent to 4,781.42.

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-- NBC News staff, CNBC and Reuters