updated 6/17/2005 8:08:42 AM ET 2005-06-17T12:08:42

Stocks finished Thursday slightly higher, amid new housing data and signs that General Motors Corp. might have to fight the United Auto Workers to trim health costs.

Major Market Indices

Beleaguered General Motors Corp. slumped 3.3 percent, or $1.20, to $35.14 on reports the United Auto Workers would refuse cuts in health care benefits ahead of a contract expiration in 2007. The automaker had said it hopes to cut $2 billion in health costs by the end of 2006, but union officials are threatening a strike if the company slashes benefits without their involvement .

The Commerce Department reported that housing starts edged up 0.2 percent in May, slightly less than expected , but the level of new construction permits remained strong, a sign of continuing strength in the sector.

Another report from a regional central bank, released mid-session, showed output at factories in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States slowed this month — the latest evidence that the U.S. economy may be headed for softer growth.

The Dow Jones industrial average finished Thursday up 12.28 points, or 0.1 percent, posting its sixth-straight day of gains, while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was up 4.35 points, or 0.4 percent. The Nasdaq composite index, full of technology stocks, rose 14.23 points, or 0.7 percent.

The Labor Department said jobless claims were up 1,000 to 333,000 last week , in line with expectations. Recent claim levels have been moderate, but analysts expect auto industry layoffs to send them higher in July.

Stocks, which have only crept upward this week despite upbeat inflation news, are likely to trade in a narrow range until the next meeting of Federal Reserve policy makers, set for June 29-30. The Fed is expected to raise short-term interest rates for the ninth time when it meets next, continuing a streak of rate hikes that began last year.

However, the market’s focus will be the Fed’s accompanying assessment of the economy; investors are looking for signs that the string of rate hikes is coming to an end.

Bonds lost some ground, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.11, from 4.10 late Wednesday. Oil prices climbed $1.01 to $56.58 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. News that Russian oil output was down 3.4 percent in April and concerns about refining capacity boosted oil prices.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. rose $3.46 to $102.65 despite reporting a sharp drop in earnings as investment banking and trading revenues fell . Profits of $1.71 per share missed analysts’ estimates by 10 cents.

Pfizer Inc. added 17 cents to $28.60 on news it was planning to buy Italian biotechnology company Vicuron Pharmaceuticals Inc. , which makes infection fighting medication, for $1.9 billion. Vicuron shares climbed $12.41, or 79 percent, to $28.21.

SBC Communications fell 6 cents to $23.95 after the company said it would take a second-quarter pretax charge of $236 million to end a service agreement with WilTel Communications. SBC, which is in the process of acquiring AT&T Corp., will switch most of its long-distance service to AT&T’s network.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei average rose 0.5 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.5 percent, while Germany’s DAX added 0.7 percent and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.02 percent.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 3.79%
$30K home equity loan FICO 4.99%
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