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Stocks Finish Higher on Promising Economic Data

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks finished with solid gains on Thursday as a batch of positive economic data helped get November's trading off to a strong start.

After a two-day freezeout due to Hurricane Sandy, Wall Street reconvened with a mixed session on Wednesday. Investors found reason to rally Thursday though as the latest reads on the employment picture fostered optimism about Friday's October jobs report, the last big piece of economic data ahead of the Nov. 6 presidential election.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained a little more than 136 points, or 1.04%, to close at 13,232. The blue-chip index posted a roughly 2% loss in October, its worst monthly performance since May.

Breadth within the Dow was overwhelmingly positive as winners beat losers, 26 to 3 with McDonald's (MCD) finishing flat. The biggest percentage gainers were Bank of America (BAC), Caterpillar (CAT), and Microsoft (MSFT).

The trio of Dow decliners were Pfizer (PFE), Travelers Cos. (TRV), and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT).

Shares of Exxon Mobil (XOM) added 0.47% after the oil and gas giant reported third-quarter adjusted earnings of $2.09 a share, ahead of Wall Street's consensus view. The company also unveiled plans to repurchase $5 billion worth of its common stock in the fourth quarter.

Pfizer's stock closed down 1.3% after the drug giant posted a 14% year-over-year decline in third-quarter earnings as sales of its cholesterol drug Lipitor fell sharply. The company also lowered its per-share guidance to a range of $2.14 to $2.17 on revenue of $58 billion to $59 billion from a previous $2.14 to $2.22 on revenue of $58 billion to $60 billion.

Shares of Travelers fell 1%, extending its weakness into a second day as investors remained timid about magnitude of the losses the insurance company may incur in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The S&P 500 added more than 15 points, or 1.09%, to close at 1428, while the Nasdaq climbed nearly 43 points, or 1.44%, to settle at 3020.

Advancers outpaced decliners by a 3.3-to-1 ratio on the Big Board and 1.9-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq. Volume totaled 3.89 billion on the New York Stock Exchange and 1.8 billion on the Nasdaq.

Thursday saw two pieces of jobs-related data. ADP reported private payrolls rose by 158,000 jobs in October, edging the consensus estimate of 155,000 compiled by Econoday. It's worth noting that the ADP has switched to Moody's as its economic consultant to revamp the data.

Also, initial jobless claims fell 23,000 to 363,000 in the week ended Oct. 20, although the four-week moving average ticked up for the second consecutive week to 368,000. The prior week's claims were revised to 372,000, a 46,000 jump.

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