Stocks gained ground on a better-than-expected November retail sales report before sprinting higher in the late afternoon after the Fed released minutes indicating its concerns about a sluggish job market.
"What got the rally started was the Fed releasing their minutes," said Michael Murphy, head trader at Wachovia Securities in Baltimore. "It's the old Goldilocks theme — low rates, low inflation and strong growth," explaining that it was the right combination for a strong advance.
"This market is ready to a have good run to the end of the year. People are looking at the economy and are starting to see good growth," he said.
But Ryan Smith, managing director of equity trading with Bank One told CBS MarketWatch he still sees a lack of conviction in the advance.
"There really isn't a specific catalyst for this rally," he said. "This is more a case of stocks drifting higher on light volume."
The Dow closed up 86.30, or 0.9 percent, at 10,008.16, according to preliminary calculations. The last time the index closed above 10,000 was May 24, 2002, when the Dow stood at 10,104.26.
The broader gauges also finished higher. The Nasdaq composite index rose 37.67, or 2 percent, at 1,942.32. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 12.16, or 1.2 percent, at 1,071.21.
The milestone marked a solid comeback from the five-year low of 7,286.27 on Oct. 9, 2002 and represents the return of the bull market following three years of bitter declines. Many analysts had wondered whether the Dow could push past 10,000 on a longer-term basis, citing psychological resistance.
Earlier in the day, the Commerce Department reported a 0.9 percent rise in November retail sales as the nation's shoppers descended on stores with a fresh burst of energy. It was the largest advance since August, and beat the expectations of economists, who had forecast a 0.7 percent rise.
Separately, the Labor Department said new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week by a seasonally adjusted 13,000 to 378,000, suggesting the pace of layoffs is leveling off.
As the economy continues to show signs of improvement, analysts say investors are moving out of the tech and small-cap stocks that have led the recovery since March and shifting their profits into larger blue-chip companies. The economic news, while positive on balance, may be temporarily taking a back seat to this rotation, said Alexander Paris, economist and market analyst for Chicago-based Barrington Research.
"People have been sitting right on the fence, wondering, 'Should I take profits now and lock in performance?' But they don't want to miss the next leg up," Paris said. "So they may be switching to these companies that have less downside risk."
Still, stocks across all sectors remain extremely vulnerable to negative news, with cautious investors quickly dumping shares when there are signs of trouble.