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US Futures Fall But US Data Tempers Decline

CHRISTINA REXRODE

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Investors sent U.S. stocks barreling to their highest levels of the year Thursday, buoyed by slivers of encouraging news about jobs and housing. At least for a day, they overlooked the lack of clarity about Greece's marathon negotiation for a bailout.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 123.13 points to close at 12,904.08, its third triple-digit gain this year. It was the highest close for the Dow since May 19, 2008, four months before the worst of the financial crisis.

As the Dow moved to within sight of 13,000, applause broke out at the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 14.81 points to 1,358.04, its highest close in nine and a half months. The Nasdaq composite, which has had an even stronger year than the Dow and S&P and is trading at its highest since 2000, rose 44.02 points to 2,959.85.

The rally was broad, with all but one of the 30 stocks in the Dow, Kraft Foods, closing higher. All 10 industry groups in the S&P were comfortably higher, led by materials stocks, including strong showings from DuPont and Dow Chemical.

General Motors was among the best-performing stocks of the day. Two years after it was almost wiped out, the company turned a record $7.6 billion profit last year, bigger even than when Americans couldn't stop buying trucks and SUVs.

Microsoft rose 4 percent, as did Bank of America, which tends to swing wildly with the market.

The Labor Department said weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped for the fourth time in five weeks to the lowest point since March 2008. That was when the jobless rate was just 5.1 percent, far below the current rate of 8.3 percent.

Construction of single-family homes cooled slightly in January, but a rise in permits suggested builders were growing more confident that more buyers are ready to come off the sidelines.

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