Stocks Build on Gains

A drop in weekly jobless claims boosts sentiment on the final trading day of 2008.
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Updated from 9:58 a.m. EST

Stocks in New York were trading modestly higher heading into midday in their final session of the year Wednesday, as weekly jobless claims data came in significantly below expectations.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was up 73 points at 8741, and the

S&P 500

was gaining 8 points at 898. The

Nasdaq

was up 18 points at 1568.

The number of people seeking

unemployment benefits

fell to 492,000 from 586,000 a week prior and well below economists' expectation for 575,000. However, "seasonal factor volatility" played a part according to the Department of Labor.

"Until there's more clarity, I would not yet put jobless claims on a list of figures suggesting the worst has thus far been seen. It is a list that remains nearly empty," writes Tony Crescenzi, chief bond market strategist for Miller Tabak, on his

Real Money blog

.

The number of people continuing to draw claims, however, climbed to 4.5 million, the highest since 1982.

Meanwhile, disgraced investor

Bernard Madoff

is scheduled to submit a list of his personal assets to the

Securities and Exchange Commission

on Wednesday, including property that could be tapped to make restitution to victims of his $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

Stocks in New York ended higher Tuesday after investors shrugged off the release of the worst consumer confidence figures on record and prepared to close the book on a historic year.

In a sign of the times, Lake Superior State University included in its 2009 list of banished words "bailout" and the "Wall Street/Main Street" dyad.

Fitting in one last

bailout

in 2008, the Treasury Department said Tuesday it will provide $5 billion to

GMAC Financial Services

, GM's auto and mortgage financing arm, in return for preferred shares that pay an 8% dividend and warrants to purchase additional shares.

In corporate news,

Credit Suisse

(CS) - Get Report

said it will pick up a 25% stake in Aberdeen Asset Management in exchange for its traditional fund management business.

Computer maker

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

said that it will rejigger its executive lineup as part of its global restructuring. The company said Michael Cannon, president of global operations, and Mark Jarvis, chief marketing officer, will leave the company.

Also, the world's third-largest independent chemical company, LyondellBasell Industries, has informed lenders that a Chapter 11 filing might be in its future, according to a report in

The Wall Street Journal

.

In commodities, oil was recently down 9 cents at $38.94 a barrel, while gold gave up $9.20 to $860.80 an ounce.

Longer-dated U.S. Treasury securities were recently falling. The 10-year note was giving up 24/32 to yield 2.1%, and the 30-year was down 1 10/32, yielding 2.6%. The dollar was stronger against the euro and the yen, and weaker against the pound.

Overseas, the FTSE in London was edging higher, and the Hong Kong's Hang Seng ended with gains.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.