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Late Rally Lifts Dow Ahead of Jobs Data

Various retailers released comparable same-store sales data Thursday morning, with most showing off better-than-expected results. Costco (COST) said comparable-store sales rose 7% in August, while sales for teen retailer Hot Topic (HOTT) and Buckle (BKE) dropped by 3.7% and 3.5%, respectively, during the period.

Target (TGT) sales were up 1%, while Macy's (M) advanced 4.3%.

Shares for Merck (MRK), IBM (IBM) and American Express (AXP) weighed the most heavily on the Dow, while Alcoa (AA), Home Depot (HD) and Boeing (BA) put in the average's best gains.

Further deal developments also continued bubbling up Thursday. Burger King (BKC) shares soared over 25% to finish at $23.58 after news swirled that the fast food chain was to be bought out by 3G Capital for $4 billion, or $24 a share. Confirmation of the deal price was first circulated Thursday by CNBC, but talk of the transaction began making the rounds Wednesday on reports from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the bidding war for data storage firm 3Par (PAR) appeared to reach a conclusion Thursday after Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) sweetened its bid for 3PAR by $3 to $33 a share. The heightened price, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and later confirmed in a company statement, forced Dell (DELL) to drop out of the auction, though the PC maker will get a $72 million termination fee as consolation. H-P shares improved 1.2% to $39.67, while 3PAR added another 2.4% to $32.86. Dell shares improved 2% to close at $12.36.

According to a report, General Motors is thought to be pricing its much-anticipated initial public offering on Nov. 17. According to Reuters, the auto manufacturer is planning to kick off its road show after the November mid-term elections.

An offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, this one owned by Mariner Energy (ME), caught fire Thursday morning. A Mariner spokesperson told CNBC in the morning that all in the crew of 13 were accounted for and there were no indications of an oil spill. But a coast guard officer said an oil sheen a mile long could be seen near the platform, according to a later report from The Associated Press. Shares shed 2.6% to $22.74.

AOL (AOL) inked a renewed search deal with Google (GOOG), with Google exchanging search services for revenue sharing on AOL's content network. Shares of AOL closed 18 cents higher at $23.08, while Google went ahead by 0.6% at $463.18.

Shares of Del Monte (DLM) lost 2.5% to finish at $12.83 after it trimmed its full-year sales outlook. Sales are now expected to rise 1% to 3% over last year, after previous estimates called for a 2% to 4% jump.

Elsewhere, natural gas inventory levels rose higher last week, the Energy Information Administration said Thursday, adding another 54 billion cubic feet to underground storage in the lower 48 states. The increase landed at the lower end of an expected range that called for an injection between 53 to 57 billion cubic feet, according to analysts polled by Platts.

The October natural gas contract, which was relatively unchanged ahead of the release, settled a penny lower at $3.75 per million British thermal units. Also in commodity markets, crude oil for October delivery was added $1.11 to finish at $75.02 a barrel, and the December gold contract traded higher by $5.30 to finish at $1,253.40 an ounce.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury note was down 13/32, boosting the yield to 2.627%.

Meanwhile, the dollar was trading fractionally lower against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index losing 0.03%.

Overseas, the European Central Bank said it was keeping its target lending rate unchanged at 1%, which marks the 16th straight months that rates have been held steady at the record low. Asian stocks moved ahead Thursday thanks to the improving U.S. manufacturing picture, though European averages were trading lower. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.2% higher, while Japan's Nikkei gained 1.5%. The FTSE in London went ahead by 0.1% while the DAX in Frankfurt held flat.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York.

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