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Stocks Inch Higher After Jobless Claims Fall

By CHRISTINA REXRODE

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The engines driving the stock market were more tepid than turbocharged Thursday, but they were enough to help stocks rise for a fifth straight day.

The three major U.S. stock indexes all closed higher as good news on the job market and healthy earnings from name-brand companies like Royal Caribbean and Harley-Davidson encouraged investors.

The Standard & Poor's 500 has risen every day since Friday, a record not matched since early March.

The forces driving the gains, however, were tenuous, market watchers said. Hiring remains sluggish, even with the drop in unemployment claims last week. The S&P's five-day winning streak is hardly a blockbuster: on Wednesday it rose just .01 point. And while companies are turning in profits that are beating the estimates of financial analysts, many are missing revenue forecasts.

Some investors think the stock market's most recent gains have more to do with the belief that central banks around the world, including the Federal Reserve, will continue to keep interest rates low and buy bonds to encourage borrowing and spending.

"Some of the earnings were OK, but it's more just stimulus, stimulus, stimulus," said Scott Freeze, president of Street One Financial in Huntingdon Valley, Pa. "As long as the world wants to print (money) ... the fears of a global slowdown are going to be muted."

Joe Heider, principal at Rehmann Group outside Cleveland, thought stocks were up mostly because investors can't think of anywhere else to put their money, given record-low interest rates.

"You can leave it in cash and make nothing on it," Heider said.

Heider said he thought the latest report on jobless claims was consistent with a "plodding" recovery: "Not booming, not exciting, but we just keep marching forward."

Weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 16,000 to 339,000, the second-lowest level in more than five years, according to the Labor Department.

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