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Dow rises for ninth straight day; best streak in 16 years

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The new pope did not bless the Dow or the rest of the stock market Wednesday.

But he didn't have to - stocks are rising without any divine intervention.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose for the ninth straight day Wednesday, its longest such streak in 16 years.

To put that in context, the O.J. Simpson civil trial had just begun. The Yankees were World Series champions. And a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, had just been elected to a second term.

The Dow’s advance Wednesday was microscopic -- a mere 5 points. But that was almost twice the gain of the day before, when it rose fewer than 3 points.

Still, a gain is a gain.

Stocks were carried higher by better-than-expected retail sales, which soothed worries that consumers would pull back amid higher gasoline prices and the pinch of increased payroll taxes.

In a bullish sign, the Dow Jones transportation average powered ahead 1.6%, a sign that investors expect the nation's airlines, railroads and trucking companies to be shipping lots of goods to consumers in coming months.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index, the only major stock index not to reach a new high recently, nudged closer to that goal, rising 2.04 points, or 0.1%, to come within 11 points of its 2007 record close.

The rise in the Dow reflects the belief among investors that more short-term gains are coming. There is a widespread expectation that stock prices will weaken to some extent after their recent strong run.

But many investors are betting that the indexes have further to go before a pullback hits.

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