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Wall Street: Stocks continue rising in early trading

U.S. stocks climbed in early trading Friday, sending the Russell 2000 Index to an all-time high, as benchmark indexes headed toward a second straight weekly gain.

The Russell 2000 of small-cap companies gained 0.6 percent to a record 1,214.20. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.4 percent to 2,090.78 at 11:36 a.m. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 44.08 points, or 0.24 percent, to 18,074.29. The Nasdaq Composite Index jumped 0.62 percent to 4,802.86, poised for the highest closing level since March 2000. The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index rebounded for a second day. Trading in S&P 500 companies was 60 percent below the 30-day average for this time of the day.

U.S. markets were closed Thursday for Christmas. Most major markets around the globe are shut Friday.

“We’ve had quite a run here,” Eric Cinnamond, who manages the $691 million Aston/River Road Independent Value Fund, said by phone from Louisville, Kentucky. “The consensus has been that the domestic economy is improving and small-caps are more exposed to that than large-cap multinational companies. Managers are making sure they’re owning what’s working and the herd mentality is at extremes right now.”

The Russell 2000 has shown resilience this year, recovering from a correction that saw it slip 11 percent over a five-week period starting in early September. The index has surged 16 percent since reaching a one-year low on Oct. 13.

Even with its 4.4 percent gain in 2014, the Russell still trails the S&P 500 and Dow.

Both the S&P 500 and the Dow are at records this week after posting their biggest rally in three years. The recent gains are taking the Dow up 1.4 percent for the month and 9.1 percent this year. The gauge has advanced for seven straight days, the longest streak since March 2013. The S&P 500 has risen 1.1 percent in December and 13 percent for the year.

“Momentum has been building in the last month for small- cap names,” Michael James, a Los Angeles-based managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities Inc., said by phone. “It’s merely playing catch up. Given that the Russell has lagged through this year, people are trying to find beta for performance.”

It hasn’t been a smooth year for the Russell 2000. The gauge lost 2.8 percent over a three-day period starting July 15 after the Federal Reserve expressed concern about valuations among social-media and biotech companies.

“Valuation metrics in some sectors do appear substantially stretched -- particularly those for smaller firms in the social- media and biotechnology industries,” the central bank wrote in assessing the U.S. stock market.

The Fed’s concern came after small-caps and Internet shares were the biggest victims of a market retreat early in the year as investors dumped the best performers of the bull market.

Small-cap shares also fell faster than the broader market during an August selloff sparked by concern that a selloff in oil prices and slowing growth in China and Europe would hurt the U.S. economy.

The Russell 2000 will trail the benchmark index in 2015, Bank of America Corp. analysts wrote in a note to clients earlier this month. Small-cap companies remain expensive and will appreciate less than larger ones as interest rates increase, the analysts led by Jill Carey Hall said.