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The stock market ended November with its best monthly performance since the summer -- even as investors worried about the strength of the holiday shopping season.
Stocks zigzagged Monday but finished modestly higher as traders ultimately were not deterred by reports that retail sales were overall uninspiring during the Thanksgiving weekend. Retailers including Macy's Inc. and Saks Inc. fell sharply but online merchants like Amazon.com Inc. shot higher on reports of strong Internet sales.
Despite the tepid finish, the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose more than 5 percent in November, their biggest monthly advance since July.
Investors may have had a muted reaction to the weekend sales reports because expectations are low due to weak consumer confidence and an unemployment rate over 10 percent. They also are buying stocks because other investments such as Treasurys don't offer the big returns that companies' shares do.
ShopperTrak, which follows more than 50,000 outlets, said retail sales rose 0.9 percent for Friday and Saturday, the start of the holiday shopping season, though fewer shoppers ventured into stores. Online sales jumped 11 percent Thursday and Friday, according to comScore, an Internet research firm.
Investors have been worried that rising unemployment would make shoppers reluctant to spend during the holidays. Traders are already looking to the government's November unemployment report, which is due Friday, for clues about how consumers will spend during December and beyond.
The National Retail Federation, a trade group, said Sunday it still expects holiday sales to slip 1 percent compared with last year.
Benny Lorenzo, CEO of the investment bank Kaufman Bros. in New York, said investors are cautious about holiday sales, but he also pointed to Internet retailers as one area of strength.
"Certainly in a market like this it could've been a lot worse for sure," he said of investors' reaction to sales reports.