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Stocks Edge Higher After Wednesday's Drop

By STEVE ROTHWELL

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The Dow Jones industrial average closed higher Thursday, regaining half of its decline the day before, as buyers returned to the market.

The Dow rose 55.76 points, or 0.4 percent, to close at 14,606.11. On Wednesday it dropped 111, its worst fall in more than a month, following weak reports on hiring and service industries. The decline was enough to make stock prices seem attractive again.

"Investors have been looking for a reason to sell, given the rally we've seen in the market in the past couple of months," said Joseph Tanious, a global market strategist at JPMorgan Funds. "Today, you're seeing investors come back into the market and buy on the dip."

The stock market got off to a strong start in 2013. The Dow climbed 10 percent in the first three months of the year and closed at a record high of 14,662 Tuesday. Investors have been encouraged by signs that the housing market was recovering and that hiring was picking up.

The market continued a steady advance through the first two weeks of March, but since then indexes have been alternating between gains and losses on a nearly daily basis as investors' confidence in the U.S. economic recovery weakened.

There was more discouraging economic news Thursday that held the market in check. The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose to a four-month high of 385,000 last week, the Labor Department said. The government will issue its employment report Friday, which investors look at closely for insight into how the U.S. economy is doing.

"The trend seems to be worsening," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "We're seeing a little hesitation in anticipation of tomorrow's job report."

Safer industry groups rose Thursday. Telecommunications companies and utilities led the gains for the S&P 500, rising 1.3 percent and 0.9 percent.

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