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Stocks close up ahead of unemployment report

Stronger reports on jobs and manufacturing boosted stocks Thursday ahead of the government's employment report for March.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Stronger reports on jobs and manufacturing boosted stocks Thursday ahead of the government's March employment report.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 70 points to a 2010 high on the final day of a shortened week. The stock market will be closed Friday and the bond market will close early for Good Friday.

Major stock indexes rose for a fifth straight week, giving the Dow its longest winning streak since mid-April last year.

Economists expect the Labor Department will report that employers added 190,000 jobs last month. That would mark on the second month of jobs growth since the recession began in December 2007. Government hiring for the 2010 census could provide a temporary boost, but an increase would still be welcome news for stock investors.

"Just getting a number with six digits — over 100,000 — is, I think, very much encouraging to a lot of folks who really believe that none of this counts until we start creating jobs," said Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial in Boston.

Confidence grew Thursday after the Labor Department said that initial claims for unemployment benefits fell last week. A four-week average of clams dropped to its lowest level in 18 months.

Manufacturing figures also raised expectations that a recovery is gaining steam. A trade group's report found that U.S. manufacturing grew in March at the fastest pace in 5 1/2 years. Manufacturing reports from China and Europe also indicated that factories are busier.

The market has been climbing with little interruption for a year. In the past seven weeks, the gains have been marked by steady increases that are adding up. The Dow on Wednesday wrapped up its strongest first quarter since 1999.

A rise in the price of oil to an 18-month high lifted energy stocks. Occidental Petroleum Corp. and Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. rose more than 2 percent.

BlackBerry phone maker Research In Motion Ltd. fell 7 percent, dragging down other technology stocks, after the company's fiscal fourth-quarter shipments fell short of expectations.

The Dow rose 70.44, or 0.7 percent, to 10,927.07. The index stands at its highest level since September 2008.

The Dow had been up 100 points, getting within 43 points of the psychological barrier of 11,000. The index hasn't topped that level it hasn't topped in 18 months.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 8.67, or 0.7 percent, to 1,178.10. The technology-dominated Nasdaq composite index rose 4.62, or 0.2 percent, to 2,402.58.

The Dow rose for a fifth straight week, adding 0.7 percent.

The S&P 500 index rose 1 percent for the week, while the Nasdaq gained 0.3 percent.

Bond prices fell, pushing yields higher. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.87 percent from 3.83 percent late Wednesday.

The dollar fell against other major currencies, while gold rose.

Crude oil topped $85 per barrel before settling up $1.11 at $84.87 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The advance in stocks came after the government said initial jobless claims fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 439,000 last week. Economists had forecast claims would drop to 440,000.

The four-week average of claims fell by nearly 7,000 to 447,250. That was the lowest level since mid-September 2008, just before the collapse of Lehman Brothers deepened the credit crisis.

Even though the stock market will be closed Friday, morning trading in Treasury bonds will provide insight into how investors are reacting to the monthly jobs report, which is the most closely watched piece of data on the economic calendar.

"It has a ripple effect and a psychological effect," said Daniel Penrod, senior industry analyst for the California Credit Union League in Ontario, Calif., referring to health of the job market. A gain in employment would nudge other economic readings higher.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Supply Management said that its manufacturing index rose to 59.6 in March from 56.5 in February. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected 57. It was the fastest growth since July 2004.

Stocks rose at the start of the week after the government reported that consumer spending rose for a fifth straight month in February. That raised expectations for a recovery in the economy. The market inched higher Tuesday. On Wednesday, a modest drop in stocks did little to damage a strong quarter. The Dow gained 4.1 percent, its best first-quarter performance since 1999. The S&P 500 rose 4.9 percent for its best first-quarter since 1998.

Next week, investors will get reports on the nation's service industry and on pending home sales and consumer credit.

In other trading Thursday, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 5.34, or 0.8 percent, to 683.98.

Among stocks, Occidental rose $2.06, or 2.4 percent, to $86.60. Diamond Offshore Drilling rose $2.20, or 2.5 percent, to $91.01.

Research in Motion fell $5.49, or 7.4 percent, to $68.48.

Citigroup Inc.'s Primerica saw one of the most successful initial public offerings of 2010. Primerica shares jumped $4.65, or 31 percent, to $19.65. Initial investors paid $15 a share.

Three stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to a light 3.8 billion shares, compared with 4.7 billion Wednesday.

Overseas markets rose after reports indicated growth in manufacturing in China and the 16-country bloc that uses the euro. A separate report found that corporate leaders in Japan are more confident about the business climate.

Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.2 percent, Germany's DAX index gained 1.3 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 1.5 percent. Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 1.4 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed the week up 76.71 points, or 0.7 percent, at 10,927.07. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 11.51, or 1 percent, to 1,178.10. The Nasdaq composite index rose 7.45, or 0.3 percent, to 2,402.58.

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks the performance of small company stocks, rose 5.01, or 0.7 percent, for the week to 683.98.

The Dow Jones U.S. Total Stock Market Index — which measures nearly all U.S.-based companies — ended at 12,124.40, up 120.46, or 1 percent.