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Dow Finishes Slightly Higher as Jobless Claims Slow

Stocks end mixed after U.S. jobless claims continue to drop and the European Central Bank expands its monetary stimulus program.

Stocks finished mixed Thursday after U.S. jobless claims continued their decline and the European Central Bank expanded its monetary stimulus program.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had been lower for a good portion of the session, squeaked into positive territory shortly before the closing bell, finishing up 11 points, or 0.05%, to 26,281. 

The S&P 500 fell 0.34% and the Nasdaq was down 0.69%. The Nasdaq 100 set an all-time intraday high earlier in the session.

Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. eased for a ninth week as the pace of corporate layoffs related to the pandemic-induced economic shutdown slowed but remained historically high.

The Labor Department said 1.877 million Americans filed jobless claims for the week ended May 28, down from the 2.126 million claims for the week earlier. States continued to slowly reopen after more than 2 1/2 months of being shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is a terrible number, but weekly jobless claims have been on the decline over the past few weeks, as states across the country start to ease the coronavirus-driven lockdowns," said Mark Tepper, president and CEO of Strategic Wealth Partners. "This trend has been priced into the stock market over the past few weeks." 

Tepper added, however, that while the stock market has come sharply off the March lows, it "seems to be ignoring trade tensions with China. This is one of the biggest risks for the stock market in the near term."

Also on Thursday a federal judge denied Bernie Madoff compassionate release from a 150-year prison sentence, despite the infamous Ponzi scheme fraudster's argument that he is dying from kidney disease.

The ECB boosted its coronavirus bond buying program by a larger-than-expected €600 billion ($680 billion) on Thursday, while issuing a downbeat growth and inflation forecast for the region's blighted economy.

The ECB said its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program would increase to €1.35 trillion ($1.53 trillion) and would be extended by around six months to June 2021. 

Wall Street on Thursday followed a Wednesday session that saw the Nasdaq trade just 2% off its all-time high and the S&P 500 jump 1.36% for its fourth straight gain. Equities rose on hopes for a quick economic recovery from the coronavirus shutdown and after private-sector job losses in the U.S. were less than expected.

The Dow rose 527 points, or 2.05%, to close at 26,269 on Wednesday.

Oil prices rose slightly Thursday after OPEC producers, as well as non-member allies such as Russia, failed to hold a virtual meeting that could have allowed for discussion of deeper and longer output cuts. The current agreement from April currently takes 9.7 million barrels from the market each day.

West Texas Intermediate crude oil, the U.S. benchmark, rose 0.13% to $37.34 a barrel.