NEW YORK – Stocks rose Thursday after a new report showed initial jobless claims fell more than expected last week.
The Labor Department said first-time jobless claims dropped to 442,000 last week. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had forecast claims would drop to 450,000.
It was the fourth straight weekly drop in initial claims, a sign that job losses are slowing and the economy is inching toward job creation. Many economists expect March will show job growth. High unemployment remains the biggest obstacle to a sustained recovery.
Traders showed little reaction to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's assertion that low interest rates are still necessary to revive the economy. In prepared remarks to the House Financial Services Committee, Bernanke said rates won't need to go up until the "expansion matures."
Low interest rates have been one of the biggest driver of the stock market's climb in the past year.
The rise in stocks comes a day after the market put a recent rally on hold. Investors appear to be brushing off new worries about European sovereign debt problems and weakness in the housing market which sent stocks lower Wednesday.
In midmorning trading, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 63.11, or 0.6 percent, to 10,899.26. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 6.79, or 0.6 percent, to 1,174.51, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 17.86, or 0.7 percent, to 2,416.62.
Overseas markets mostly rose a day after Portugal's debt was downgraded. The downgrade set off fresh concerns that European countries saddled with debt would upend a global economic recovery. The debt worries have been one of the few factors dragging down an otherwise strong market over the past couple of months.
European leaders are meeting Thursday to discuss providing support for Greece as it struggles to finance its debts.
Stocks have been steadily climbing since early February. The move higher has been largely due to economic reports showing slow but steady improvements in the economy. Wednesday's retreat came after major indexes had hit their highest levels since 2008. The Dow fell 53 points, marking only its second drop in the past 12 trading sessions.
Bond prices were little changed. Treasury prices had tumbled Wednesday after a second straight bond auction drew weak demand. The government is set to sell $32 billion in seven-year notes Thursday afternoon.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, was flat at 3.86 percent from late Wednesday.
The dollar fell against other major currencies, a day after hitting its highest level against the euro in 10 months.
Crude oil rose 48 cents to $81.09 per barrel in the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold rose.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 2.80, or 0.4 percent, to 686.48.
Two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 186.3 million shares, compared with 171.2 million shares traded at the same point Wednesday.
In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.7 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 1.3 percent, and France's CAC-40 climbed 1.1 percent. Earlier, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.1 percent.
NEW YORK – Better sales of notebook computers and flat-panel TVs helped Best Buy's fourth-quarter earnings rise 37 percent, the electronics retailer said Thursday.
The news sent shares up nearly 7 percent in premarket trading.
Profit for the three months ended Feb. 27 rose to $779 million, or $1.82 per share, from $570 million, or $1.35 per share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, on average, predicted a profit of $1.79 per share.
Revenue increased 12 percent to $16.55 billion. Analysts predicted revenue of $16.08 billion.
Higher sales of notebook computers, flat-screen TVs and cell phones were partly offset by lower selling prices. Sales of music and movies fell.
Sales in stores open at least 14 months rose 7 percent during the key holiday quarter. That and similar measure is important for retailers because it measures growth at existing stores rather than from newly opened ones.
Best Buy has gained market share since rival Circuit City liquidated last year, but competition with discounters and online retailers remains tough.
The company said it believes it took a bigger piece of the market for flat-panel TVs, notebook computers, cell phones and digital imaging during the quarter.
For the year, profit rose 35 percent to $1.32 billion, or $3.10 per share. Revenue rose 10 percent to $49.69 billion.
The company says it expects a profit of $3.45 to $3.60 per share in the fiscal year ending in February 2011. That is better than the $3.37 analysts predict.
Best Buy expects revenue of $52 billion to $53 billion, in line with analyst expectations of $52.14 billion.
It expects sales in stores open at least 14 months to rise 1 percent to 3 percent during the year.
Best Buy, based in Minneapolis, expects to open 50 to 55 new large-format Best Buys during the year and 75 to 100 small-format stores, mainly standalone stores selling mobile devices in the U.S. It also plans to open 10 to 15 Five Star stores in China.
Shares rose $2.76, or 6.7 percent, to $43.94 during premarket trading. They're nearing levels not seen since mid-December, when shares peaked at $45.37 then tumbled on worries about thinning profit margins.
The stock has traded between $31.25 and $45.55 during the past year.
LONDON – Retail sales in Britain rose 1.9 percent in February from January, leaving them 5 percent higher than a year earlier, the Office for National Statistics said Thursday.
In terms of volume, as opposed to value, sales were up 2.1 percent compared with January, or 3.5 percent ahead of February 2009, the agency said.
Non-food stores led the gains with sales 8.1 percent higher by value compared with a year earlier. Sales by stores mainly dealing in food were 0.9 percent higher than a year ago, the agency said.
"February's official retail sales figures confirm that high street spending bounced back after the snow and VAT (value-added tax) rise hit spending at the start of the year," said Vicky Redwood, economist at Capital Economics.
"That said, the sharp increases are less impressive than they look, given that January's falls were revised far bigger."