NEW YORK -- The Dow Jones industrial average notched its ninth gain in a row, giving the index its longest winning streak in more than sixteen years.

The index edged up 5.22 points, or 0.04 percent, to 14,455.28. The Dow has risen every day this month and is up 10.3 percent this year, having surpassed its previous all-time high of 14,164.53 March 5th.

Demand for stocks has been propelled this year by optimism that the housing market is recovering and that companies have started to hire. Strong company earnings and ongoing stimulus from the Federal Reserve are also helping make stocks more attractive.

The Dow's last nine-day
winning streak was logged in May 1996. In November of the same year, in the early days of the technology boom, it gained for 10 straight days.

Stocks overcame an early loss Wednesday, having edged lower at the start of the trading day despite an unexpectedly strong increase in U.S. consumer spending last month.

Americans spent at the fastest pace in five months in February, boosting retail spending 1.1 percent compared with January, the Com-merce Department reported Wednesday. Econ-omists had forecast a rise of just 0.2
percent, according to data provider FactSet.

The failure of the market to rally directly after the report suggests that the bar has now risen for investors as stocks have rallied.

"As the market rises, so do expectations," said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Wealth Management. "So, even if you get good numbers you don't necessarily get the market to go up."

The solid increase in retail sales is encouraging for the economy because it shows that Americans kept spending despite a payroll tax increase that has lowered take-home pay this year for most workers. Consumer spending drives about 70 percent of the U.S. economy.