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Stocks  gain after downbeat economic data

The stock market managed a slender gain Thursday after traders shook off a pair of disappointing economic reports.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The stock market managed a slender gain Thursday after traders shook off a pair of disappointing economic reports.

Traders began buying late in the session, although without the vehemence that has marked other final-hour moves in recent weeks. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up about 24 points after falling 90 early in the day, and scored its first three-day advance since April. The Standard & Poor's 500 and Nasdaq composite indexes both rose a little more than a point.

The late rebound following downbeat employment and manufacturing news suggests that investors may be getting more confident about the economic recovery, said Philip Orlando, the New York-based chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors.

"I think we're starting to see a change in psychology," Orlando said. "We're beginning to ignore bad news and focusing on the bigger, better long term picture, and that's encouraging."

Still, investors were also looking for safe holdings, a sign that the economy is uncertain enough for them to hedge their bets. Treasury prices rose, pushing down interest rates, and gold closed at a record high.

The government said early in the day that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week. Initial claims for jobless benefits increased 12,000 to 472,000. That's the highest level in a month and follows three straight weeks of declines. Economists had forecast another drop.

A drop in the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's index of regional manufacturing also hit stocks. The Philly Fed said manufacturing continued to expand in June but at a slower pace than in May. Its index of manufacturing activity dropped to 8 from 21.4 the month before. Traders were concerned that the slowdown signals that a recovery is fading in one of the strongest parts of the economy.

"It adds up to a modest, uneven recovery," said Paul Ballew, chief economist at Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, Ohio, and a former senior economist with the Federal Reserve. "We're not expecting some light switch being turned on here."

Retailers and other stocks that depend on steady consumer spending fell following the jobs report. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. fell 7.6 percent, and most other big retailers also ended the day with losses. DirecTV Inc. fell 3.9 percent.

Stocks regarded as safer investments during weak economies such as utilities and health care rose. FirstEnergy Corp. gained 1.6 percent, while health insurer Aetna Inc. climbed 4.5 percent after it forecast that its second-quarter earnings would beat analysts' expectations because of lower medical costs.

A stronger euro helped the market. The euro rose after a bond offering by Spain's government drew solid demand. Traders have been concerned that European countries like Spain with high debt loads would have trouble raising money because of worries about defaults. A stronger euro is seen as a sign of confidence in Europe's ability to cut its debt without jeopardizing an economic rebound. The euro climbed to $1.2396, up more than 5 cents from the four-year low it reached last week.

Traders have been trying to determine where stocks are headed since major stock indexes hit their 2010 peak in late April. The Dow has risen 6.3 percent from its lowest close of the year on June 7 but it's still down almost 7 percent from its high of 11,205 on April 26.

The Dow rose 24.71, or 0.2 percent, to 10,434.17. The last time the average had a three-day advance was April 19-21, shortly before the market began sliding on concerns about Europe's economic problems. The Dow is up 243.28 over the past three days. The bulk of that gain came from an almost 214-point jump on Tuesday.

The S&P 500 index rose 1.43, or 0.1 percent, to 1,116.04, and the Nasdaq rose 1.23, or 0.05 percent, to 2,307.16.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 3.19 percent from 3.27 percent late Wednesday.

Crude oil fell 84 cents to $76.83 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold closed at a record $1,248.70 an ounce.

BP fell 14 cents to $31.71. Aetna rose $1.31, or 4.5 percent, to $30.63.

Losing stocks were slightly ahead of gainers on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.16 billion shares.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 0.28, or 0.04 percent, to 665.85.

Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.3 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 0.5 percent, and France's CAC-40 gained 0.2 percent. Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.7 percent.