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Stocks end the trading day with modest gains

Stocks held on to slim gains to finish trading Wednesday as investors tried to shrug off a setback in the U.S. service sector.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Stock indexes managed slight gains Wednesday as investors shrugged off slower growth in the U.S. service sector.

The Institute for Supply Management reported Wednesday that business growth slowed at U.S. service providers in June. Financial companies and health care providers reported the weakest results. On the positive side, June marked the 19th consecutive month of growth at service companies, which employ the majority of American workers.

U.S. stocks opened mixed after a broad sell-off in Europe and another interest rate hike in China.

Major banks fell sharply after Moody's lowered Portugal's credit rating to "junk" status late Tuesday. That raised fresh concerns about the strength of the European financial system and investment banks' exposure to possible bond defaults. Bank of America Corp. lost 2.4 percent. JPMorgan Chase dropped 1.2 percent.

Some investors were surprised that stock indexes held up after the weak economic report. Dorsey Farr, a co-founder of Atlanta investment advisory firm French Wolf & Farr, said attractive stock prices in technology and pharmaceutical companies helped the market rebound.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.34 to close at 1,339.22. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. was among the index's biggest losers, dropping 3.6 percent, as a phone-hacking scandal engulfed one of the media giant's tabloids. Some British legislators called on regulators to block News Corp. from taking over British Sky Broadcasting.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 56.15 points, or 0.4 percent, to close at 12,626.02. Caterpillar Inc. rose 1.5 percent, the most of any stock in the average, followed by Intel Corp. The Nasdaq added 8.25 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,834.02.

China raised a key interest rate for the third time this year in an attempt to curb inflation. Many U.S. companies have focused on the country as a source of profit growth and are hoping that interest rate hikes there will not lead to an economic slump.

Among U.S. companies, General Motors gained 1 percent after analysts upgraded the stock. Walgreen Co. rose 1.5 percent after reporting strong June sales.

Business software maker Compuware Corp. rose 5.5 percent, among the strongest in the S&P 500. Compuware bought another software maker, dynaTrace, for $256 million and said it expects the deal to more than double sales in the next year.

No major corporate earnings reports are scheduled for this week. Aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. starts the earnings reporting season next Monday.

The Dow climbed 648 points last week, its best week in two years. The gains came as Greece's parliament approved budget-cutting measures needed before it receives another round of loans. Nike also reported strong earnings and automakers said their sales rose 7 percent in June compared with the same month a year ago.

The gains erased nearly six weeks of losses. The Dow is now up 9.1 percent for the year. The S&P 500 index is up 6.5 percent and the Nasdaq composite is up 6.8 percent.

Trading has been light during the holiday-shortened week. Markets were closed in the U.S. on Monday for the July 4th holiday. Many investors are looking ahead to Friday's employment report. Economists expect that the unemployment rate was 9.1 percent in June, unchanged from the month before.

Four stocks rose for every three that fell on the New York Exchange. Trading volume was below average at 3.3 billion shares.