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Stocks Close Higher on Mixed Bag of Economic Data, Earnings

Stocks rose modestly as investors weighed jobless claims climbing and manufacturing in China rising.
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Stocks rose modestly on Thursday as investors weighed jobless claims climbing and manufacturing in China rising, a day after the Federal Reserve signaled interest rates would remain low for the foreseeable future.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which rose over 150 points on Wednesday, closed unofficially 10 points higher. The S&P 500 rose 4 points to within 5 points of its record high and the Nasdaq added 22 points.

"We're heartened that the markets have been able to hold onto yesterday's nice gains. I'm not sure there is any particular driver, with the exception of yesterday's Fed minutes, which showed they are contemplating the next big move in rates, but don't seem anxious to be too aggressive," said Jim Russell, senior equity strategist for US Bank Wealth Management in Cincinnati.

"We got a mixed bag of data, both overnight and this morning, overseas and domestically. And we've had a string of retail announcements this week that have been on the disappointing side of the ledger. We suspect weather was part of it," Russell said.

Investors will "reflect more upon positive economic data out of China than we will the weekly jobless claims numbers," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.

Thursday's data included the Markit Economics preliminary index of U.S. manufacturing, which rose to 56.2 this month from 55.4 in April. And, an initial purchasing managers' index in China climbed to a five-month high.

Also ahead of the opening, the Labor Department reported initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 28,000 to 326,000 last week, with the four-week average down 1,000 to 322,500.

Thursday's economic reports "are probably being overshadowed by the dovish comments by the Fed, that they are going to keep rates lower for longer," said Mike Serio, a Denver-based regional chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank.

"If we continue to get jobless claims numbers like we had today, and there is no inflation in employment costs, don't look for the Fed to raise short-term rates anytime soon," said Serio.

Best Buy reported first-quarter earnings that beat estimates and shares of the electronics retailer rose over 3 percent. Hess shares gained after refiner Marathon Petroleum said it would pay about $2.87 billion for the oil and gas producer's retail business.

The dollar gained against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and the 10-year Treasury yield added 2 basis points to 2.552 percent.

Oil futures for July delivery fell 33 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $103.74 a barrel and gold futures for June delivery rose $6.90, or 0.5 percent, to $1,295 an ounce.