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Stocks Gain as Weak Data Signal More Fed Stimulus

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stock markets rose Thursday after weaker-than-anticipated reports on U.S. growth and the housing market fueled sentiment the Federal Reserve will maintain its aggressive stimulus measures.

The S&P 500 rose 0.37% to close at 1,654.41. The index is up 16% in 2013.

"The market is wrestling with this idea that we're at an inflection point, maybe not for market direction, but certainly in terms of the Fed and monetary easing," said Erik Davidson, deputy chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank. "The idea of the Fed tapering is easing has become more of a reality."

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that its second estimate on U.S. first-quarter GDP showed a rise by an annual rate of 2.4%, up from a 0.4% increase in the fourth quarter, but below the prior estimate of 2.5%. Economists, on average, were expecting the estimate to remain at 2.5%.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said initial jobless claims for the week ended May 25 rose 10,000 to a worse-than-expected 354,000. Economists were expecting jobless claims of 340,000. The four-week moving average was 347,250, an increase of 6,750 from the previous week's average of 340,500.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.1% to 15,324.53 while the Nasdaq advanced 0.7% to 3,491.30.

"We certainly haven't seen anything like the 'Sell in May, Go Away' phenomenon since this bull market began in '09," Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas said during an annual Charles Schwab and optionsXpress conference call on Thursday. "As long as the Fed continues to buy bonds and haven't made any specific dates on when they might taper that back, I think there's still plenty of reason to be bullish."

Michael Zarembski, a Chicago-based senior commodities analyst at the Charles Schwab unit optionsXpress, said during the annual call that two of the main barometers of the housing market, lumber and copper, indicate that "we're forming a housing base where the worst is over but I don't think overall we're seeing anything near bubble level."

Lumber prices are down over 40% from their March highs of about $410 per 1,000 board feet and current copper prices can be best described as "choppy," he said.

First Solar (FSLR - Get Report) jumped 6.6% to $55.15 after Goldman Sachsraised the solar equipment maker to "buy" from "neutral," citing strong cash flow and reasonable valuation.

EMC ( EMC ) added 5.4% to $24.93 after the cloud computing company hiked its share buyback program to $6 billion over the next three years, and announced a quarterly dividend of 10 cents a share. Topeka Capital Markets analysts said in a note that EMC's joining of the "cash dividend club" is a positive for the stock.

Facebook (FB - Get Report) gained 5.3% to $24.55 after the world's biggest social media website was boosted to "outperform" from "market perform" by BMO Capital analyst Dan Salmon, who wrote that investor sentiment has grown overly negative on long-term usage concerns of younger users. Jefferies also upgraded Facebook to "buy" from "hold".

Apple (AAPL - Get Report) shares rose 1.5% to $451.59 as the company announced a new iPod touch, which will come with 16 GB worth of memory only, a dual-core A5 processor, and a front camera, but no rear camera.

Walt Disney (DIS - Get Report) dipped 2.4% to $64.65 after the company's chief financial officer softened expectations for the quarter. Disney would suffer losses on marketing costs for its "The Lone Ranger" movie, and revenue from the film would miss the current quarter as it starts to run on July 3, CFO Jay Rasulo said at the Nomura Securities investor conference.

The National Association of Realtors said pending home sales rose by a less than expected 0.3% in April after increasing 1.5% in March. Expectations were for an increase of 1.1% in April.

Written by Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

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