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Stocks push higher despite confusing data

Wall Street waffled in response to more confusing economic news Thursday, leaving stocks trading in a narrow range.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Buyers enticed by Wall Street’s depressed prices moved back into the market Thursday, giving stocks a moderate boost after a more than 2½-week slide.

Muddled economic news on the labor market sent the major indexes fluctuating in the first part of the session, but investors shook off any concerns and all of the major indexes had turned higher by the close of trading.

“In the end, with earnings as strong as they’ve been, we’re going to overlook the little economic reports,” said Bill Groenfeld, head trader for vFinance Investments. “Right now, we’re seeing earnings-driven buying, which is smart and good for the economy anyway.”

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 24.81, or 0.2 percent, to 10,495.55.

The broader indicators also advanced. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 2.07, or 0.2 percent, to 1,128.59. The Nasdaq composite index gained 5.42, or 0.3 percent, to 2,019.56, after falling a sharp 52.07 Wednesday, its biggest one-day point drop in more than four months.

With prices lower after a decline that began in mid-January, investors were looking to pick up some bargains. Still, the major indexes moved sideways for much of Thursday’s session as investors tried to interpret the day’s economic news.

First-time jobless claims rose by 17,000 last week, according to the Labor Department, while worker productivity grew by only 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter, down sharply from 9.5 percent in the third quarter. Economists expected jobless claims to remain level and productivity to rise by 3.4 percent.

“When you look at the productivity numbers, it shows that the cost-cutting that drove earnings is behind us, and the earnings themselves are back to a more normal range,” said Subodh Kumar, chief investment strategist for CIBC World Markets. “We’re starting a slower growth phase and leaving the faster cyclical recovery phase, and that will move investors into the larger-cap stocks.”

A more important indicator was expected Friday, when payroll figures will be reported for January. The market was looking for a better performance than the meager 1,000 jobs that employers added in December.

While they awaited Friday’s report, investors continued a subtle shift toward defensive positions in the consumer and health care sectors.

Gainers included brewer Adolph Coors Co., which jumped $5.58, or 10 percent, to $61.50, on the strength of its earnings, which blew past Wall Street expectations.

PepsiCo Inc. climbed 95 cents to $48.55 after meeting analysts’ expectations with a 30 percent rise in quarterly earnings.

Pharmaceutical stocks were mixed as federal authorities announced plans to take action against drug makers who mislead investors by misrepresenting the status of regulatory reviews of their products. Such reviews can have a powerful impact on the share prices of companies seeking approval for new medical treatments.

Pfizer Inc. added 13 cents to $38.40, while Merck & Co. fell 20 cents to $48.74. Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. gained 65 cents to $75.95 after its earnings beat Wall Street forecasts by 8 cents a share.

On the Nasdaq, technology stocks struggled to regain ground after Wednesday’s sell-off. Intel Corp. was down 10 cent at $29.92, while Cisco Systems Inc. dropped 26 cents to $23.82.

Advancing issues slightly outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was moderate, at 1.57 billion shares, compared with 1.64 billion shares on Wednesday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies closed up 5.51, or 1.0 percent, at 569.54.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average climbed 0.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 finished 0.3 percent lower after the Bank of England raised interest rates by a quarter-point, while France’s CAC-40 ended the day 0.1 percent higher. Germany’s DAX index closed down 0.3 percent.