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Stocks close at milestone highs on consumer confidence 

Stocks gained on Wednesday, with a positive read on consumer confidence spreading cheer just before the holiday shopping season and as Hewlett-Packard helped ignite a rally in technology shares.

"Traders were worried about the holiday season and if consumers were going to sit this one out. It's very important to the economy and the ongoing recovery that we have a good holiday season," said Chris Gaffney, senior market strategist at EverBank.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 24 points to a record close at 16,097.33. The S&P 500 ended 4 points higher at 1,807.23, with technology leading sector gains and energy losing the most ground among its 10 major industry groups.

Closing at a more-than 13-year high of 4,044.75, and extending gains into a fifth session, the Nasdaq was on track for its third consecutive monthly increase, up 12 percent.

Hewlett-Packard shares jumped 9 percent after the personal-computer maker reported revenue and profit above expectations.

The dollar edged higher against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note used in figuring mortgage rates and other consumer loans rose to 2.74 percent.

Oil fell $1.38, or 1.5 percent, to settle near a six-month low of $92.30 a barrel, and gold prices also declined, losing $3.60, or 0.3 percent, to end at $1,237.90 an ounce, its lowest since July.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan gauge on consumer sentiment came in at 75.1 in November, topping estimates for a rise to 73.5.

Another report had the leading index of economic indicators up 0.2 percent in October.

Other data Wednesday had fewer Americans than expected filing applications for jobless benefits last week, while orders for durable goods declined in October.

"In general, the numbers had a positive tone," said Gaffney.

And, a measure of business activity in the Chicago region for November proved better than expected.

On Tuesday, stocks rose, with the Dow posting a record finish, as better-than-expected reports on housing ignited a rally among home builders.

"As the averages keep marching higher, one has to ponder whether money mangers that are lagging their benchmarks are responsible. That leads to the question of what happens if a selloff starts in the next two weeks, do money mangers book profits to protect their month, year?" Does selling beget more selling?" asked Elliot Spar, market strategist at Stifel Nicolaus.

EverBank's Gaffney does not believe equities will march steadily higher into 2014. "There is going to be some profit taking, that's the headwind the market is taking into the end of the year, with people just booking those returns," he said of Wall Street's strong performance in 2013, with the S&P 500 up nearly 27 percent.

As for next year, "nobody is expecting a repeat of this year, as far as equity returns go. We'll drift higher in 2014," said Gaffney, who believes the market's focus will largely be on when the Federal Reserve begins curbing its monthly asset purchases, and once tapering has commenced, earnings will come back into play.