NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- A very late session rally helped stocks finish with solid gains Thursday, as market participants began to shift their gaze toward Friday's much anticipated August jobs report.
The major indices were helped by broadly positive retail sales figures, a pickup in a pending-home sales measure, and a modest drop in new jobless claims.
But ignoring the session's final moments, stocks moved sideways for the vast portion of the day, with traders sitting on their hands, hesitant to make any definitive moves ahead of Friday's big data point. The market's defiant crawl higher in the final hour came even as early estimates provided by Briefing.com were calling for nonfarm payrolls to shed another 120,000 jobs last month and the nation's unemployment rate to tick up to 9.6%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up by 51 points, or 0.5%, at 10,320. The S&P 500 added 10 points, or 0.9%, at 1090, while the Nasdaq traded 23 points higher, or 1.1%, at 2200.After closing the books on their worst August since 2001, stocks kicked off September in fine style Wednesday. The Dow finished 255 points higher on upbeat economic data out of China and Australia, coupled with a surprisingly strong manufacturing report in the U.S. Thursday only extended those gains, helped by a select set of improving economic data points. While Wall Street is preparing for the jobs reading, Thursday offered investors another glimpse at weekly initial claims data, which have tracked higher in recent weeks. The Labor Department said
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