Markets Make Slight Gains in Thursday Trading

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - While waiting for news on unemployment due by the end of the week, stocks edged higher on Thursday.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 18.60 points to close the fourth session of the week at 9,487.80, the Nasdaq Composite index picked up 3.94 points to reach 1,836.19, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 2.02 points to 1,020.24.

Early in the day, investors were confronted with the news that the number of people filing for new unemployment benefits rose 13,000 to 399,00 last week, slightly more than economists predicted, including claims from persons unable to file the week before due to the impact of Hurricane Isabel on the East Coast.

Also, factory orders fell during August, the first decline in four months. The Commerce Department said such orders dropped 0.8 percent after a rise of 1.6 percent in July. The slide was broadly based, with orders falling for such big-ticket items as cars as well as such "nondurable" goods as clothes.

But traders chose to hang onto the optimism Wall Street showed on Wednesday, when all three major markets soared on better-than-expected economic news.

Sandip Bhagat, a quantitative strategist at Citigroup Asset Management, told the Financial Times that the markets were looking for reasons to go up, but he added that investors would watch the next key piece of economic information - monthly payrolls expected on Friday - very carefully.

Other analysts also hope that non-farm payrolls fell less in the past month than in August, since a decline would mean the economy's eighth consecutive month of job losses and could take a significant bite out of recent gains on Wall Street.

Elsewhere on Thursday, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 2.2 percent. In Europe, France's CAC-40 and Britain's FTSE 100 each gained 0.5 percent, while Germany's DAX index slipped 0.2 percent.

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