Stocks edge higher after jobs, housing reports

Stocks edged higher Thursday after reports on housing, manufacturing and jobs indicated the economy continues to grow, albeit slowly.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 17 points in late morning trading. Broader indexes rose.

The Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week, but remain well above levels that indicate a healthy economy. Claims dipped for the second straight week. They fell slightly below the level economists had forecast, which was somewhat encouraging ahead of the monthly employment report due out Friday.

The Dow rose 17.48, or 0.2 percent, to 10,286.88. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.75, or 0.5 percent, to 1,086.04, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 14.99, or 0.7 percent, to 2,191.83.

The number of buyers who signed contracts to purchase homes rose 5.2 percent in July after hitting a record low in June, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales plummeted in the months following the expiration of the government's home buyer tax credit in April and economists were expecting that trend to continue for a third straight month.

Factory orders also climbed, rising 0.1 percent in July. The rise in orders backs up Wednesday's data that showed the manufacturing sector continues to expand. Major indexes jumped more than 2 percent Wednesday after a surprising rise in manufacturing activity.

Thursday's moves were muted because the government's monthly report on employment will be released Friday. Traders often limit big moves before the jobs data because it is considered so vital to determining the health of the economy.

The monthly report is likely to provide further evidence that the jobs market remains weak. The Labor Department's monthly data is expected to indicate employers are still not hiring workers in large numbers. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters predict the unemployment rate inched up to 9.6 percent last month from 9.5 percent in July as private employers hired just 41,000 workers last month.

About two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 247.1 million shares.

Bond prices dipped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 2.63 percent from 2.58 percent late Wednesday. Its often used as a gauge to set interest rates on mortgages and other consumer loans.

With the broader market not making any big moves, investors were targeting individual stocks after the monthly retail sales reports and the latest acquisition activity.

“It's a trader's market,” said Kenneth Polcari, managing director at ICAP Equities.

Costco Wholesale Corp. shares jumped 56 cents to $58.35 after it said sales were helped by higher gas prices and improved international revenue. Limited Brands, which operates Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, jumped $1.29, or 5.3 percent, to $25.56.

Dell Inc. walked away from a bidding war with Hewlett-Packard Co. to buy data storage provider 3Par Inc. Hewlett-Packard raised its bid to $33 per share after Dell offered $32 per share.

Shares of 3Par rose 74 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $32.82. Dell shares rose after the computer company said it would end its bid for 3Par, climbing 13 cents to $12.25. Hewlett-Packard climbed 27 cents to $38.48.

Fast food chain Burger King Holdings Inc. is selling itself to private equity firm 3G Capital for $3.26 billion, or $24 per share. Burger King shares jumped $4.54, or 24.1 percent, to $23.40.

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