* S&P 500, Dow, Nasdaq, Russell 2000 hit record highs
* U.S. jobless claims drop from five-month high
* Express Scripts shares dive after short-seller comments
* Indexes up: Dow 0.33 pct, S&P 0.22 pct, Nasdaq 0.44 pct (Updates to close of U.S. market)
By Lewis Krauskopf
Dec 8 (Reuters) - Major U.S. stock indexes climbed again on Thursday and set fresh record highs as a month-long rally following the presidential election of Donald Trump rolled on.
Investors have driven up equities since Trump’s Nov. 8 election over optimism about domestic economic stimulus and reduced corporate taxes and regulations.
Supporting the upbeat sentiment on Thursday was a report that showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell from a five-month high last week, pointing to labor market strength that underscored the economy’s momentum.
“This is just a continued melt-up post-election. The path of least resistance has been higher,” said Jason Ware, chief investment officer with Albion Financial Group in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Seasonally, you have a strong period. You have money coming out of the bond market ... so that money has to go somewhere,” Ware said.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 65.19 points, or 0.33 percent, to 19,614.81, the S&P 500 gained 4.84 points, or 0.22 percent, to 2,246.19 and the Nasdaq Composite added 23.59 points, or 0.44 percent, to 5,417.36.
All three indexes set new records, a day after they each posted gains of at least 1 percent. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks, which has soared 15 percent since the election, also hit a new high.
Financials, among the major gainers since the election, led the way again on Thursday, rising 0.9 percent. Industrials, another post-election beneficiary, fell back 0.5 percent, weighed down by defense stocks.
While investors are still adjusting to the economy’s outlook under a Trump administration, “generally speaking, the idea that taxes will be less and regulations will be dialed back seems to be creating not only optimism but laying the groundwork for economic expansion,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.
“So if you own stock, you want to hold onto it. If you don‘t, you want to buy it,” Hellwig said.
The Dow Jones Transport index rose 0.5 percent, a day after setting a new closing record high for the first time in two years. The fresh high triggered a bullish sign for some investors who look for parallel performance for both the Dow industrial and transportation averages.
Adding to positive sentiment for equities has been recent positive economic data, as well as S&P 500 companies poised to end a streak of declining profits with their third-quarter results.
Investors on Thursday were digesting the European Central Bank’s decision to trim back its asset buys but also its vow of protracted stimulus to aid a still-fragile recovery.
Next week’s Federal Reserve meeting, at which the U.S. central bank is widely expected to raise interest rates, is also coming into focus as market participants seek clues about the future pace of any rate hikes.
In corporate news, Lululemon soared 15 percent after the yoga and leisure apparel retailer reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit.
Express Scripts shares tumbled 6.7 percent after short-seller Citron Research called the pharmacy benefit manager the “real culprit” in drug price gouging.
About 8 billion shares changed hands in U.S. exchanges, just above the 7.8 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.69-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.06-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 112 new 52-week highs and 4 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 481 new highs and 28 new lows. (Additional reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D‘Silva and Nick Zieminski)