Stocks climbed for the sixth day in a row as consumer confidence perked up just in time for the holiday shopping season.

Retail stocks lead the market higher today, based on resurgent consumer data documented by the University of Michigan. Investors until now have been anxious about gift shopping, but attitudes are changing thanks to the consumer survey and falling gas prices, which should free up money for gifts.

The checkered flag to start the shopping race will drop at 5 a.m. Friday at Wal-Mart, which is setting the pace for the retail industry by cutting prices early and deep.

Wal-Mart will become the first to break the below-$1,000 price barrier for 42 inch plasma televisions with a $997 model that could sellout the before the end of the day.

Sears is also taking early, aggressive markdowns at both its Sears and Kmart stores to avoid being left behind by Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, in turn, is trying to avoid the mistake it made last year when it held off price cuts early in the season and wound up losing lots of business to price-chopping competitors.

Best Buy and Circuit City are the best-positioned retailers to capitalize on Christmas, one analyst said today, giving those stocks and the rest of the sector a boost.

McDonald's stock also drew holiday cheers from investors as its rolled out its first gift card--a plastic Big Mac debit-card that can be purchased in amounts worth as much as $50 in burgers, fries and drinks.

Climbing for the sixth day in a row, the Standard& Poor's 500 stock index gained 4 points to 1,265.61 and the Nasdaq Stock Market composite index advanced 6 points to 2,259.98.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up for the fifth day in a row, picking up 45 points as it climbed to 10,916.09.