Wall Street rose modestly in light holiday trading today after the government released downbeat, but unsurprising, readings on rising U...

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NEW YORK — Wall Street rose modestly in light holiday trading today after the government released downbeat, but unsurprising, readings on rising U.S. joblessness and declining consumer spending.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 48.99, or 0.6 percent, at 8,468.48, after falling for five straight sessions. The blue-chip index is well off its November lows, but is still down for the typically strong month of December.

Broader stock indicators also gained. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures rose 4.99, or 0.6 percent, to 868.15, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 3.36, or 0.2 percent, to 1,524.90.

Today’s stock moves were considered largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Trading volumes were extremely low ahead of Christmas, and the markets closed early today at 10 a.m. Seattle time. And with only four trading days left in 2008, most buying and selling appeared to be investors trying to dress up their portfolios after a year of unprecedented market turmoil.

Wall Street’s reaction to Wednesday’s economic data was a shrug. Investors have largely been factoring in bad numbers for the fourth quarter as Americans adjusted to the slumping economy and as banks and automakers scrambled for funding from the U.S. government to stay afloat.

“We’ve got to get through this year — it’s been crazy — and just start over,” said Stephen Carl, principal and head of equity trading at The Williams Capital Group.

His wishlist for 2009: “I hope more shoes don’t drop in January, and I really hope that come March that the (government bailout) money is able to do what the people giving the money expect. I hope the automakers don’t need anymore; I hope the plan comes to fruition.”

The Labor Department said initial applications for unemployment benefits rose more than anticipated to a seasonally adjusted 586,000 last week. That was the highest level since November 1982, though the work force has grown by about half since then.

Other reports were gloomy, but less grim than anticipated. The Commerce Department said consumer spending dropped 0.6 percent in November — the fifth straight monthly drop — and durable goods orders fell 1 percent in November.

Floor traders, as they do every year on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, gathered for a moment at the New York Stock Exchange to sing “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie.” The song is about waiting for the rain to end, and the Big Board tradition has roots going back to the Great Depression.