) -- The major U.S. equity averages finished modestly higher Thursday despite the ongoing back-and-forth on Capitol Hill about the pace of U.S. budget talks.

House Speaker John Boehner threw cold water on the perception that momentum toward a compromise was picking up, bringing stocks off early-session highs. Boehner was

quoted as saying there's been no "substantive" progress as yet

in the ongoing bi-partisan negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff, according to media reports.


Dow Jones Industrial Average

rose nearly 37 points, or 0.28%, to close at 13,022. The blue-chip index, which climbed as high as 13,062 earlier in the day, rose for a second-straight session and is now up 6.58% year-to-date.

Winners ran ahead of losers within the Dow, 21 to 8, with


(AA) - Get Report

unchanged. The biggest percentage gainers within the index were


(CAT) - Get Report



(HPQ) - Get Report

, and


(UNH) - Get Report


Shares of

Walt Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

rose 1.1% after the entertainment and media giant announced a 25% boost to its annual dividend, bringing the payout to 75 cents a share.

Prominent Dow decliners included


(INTC) - Get Report


Home Depot

(HD) - Get Report

, and


(MSFT) - Get Report

, which slumped following a report that sales of Windows-based PCs


after the release of the company's Windows 8 operating system software update.

Intel shares fell 2.8% after

The Wall Street Journal

reported that Japan's


is in talks with


(DELL) - Get Report

, Intel and


(QCOM) - Get Report

about a possible capital injection to help it bolster its balance sheet, citing people familiar with the discussions.


S&P 500

added 6 points, or 0.43%, to close at 1416, while the


gained 20 points, or 0.68%, to settle at 3012 for its first finish above 3000 since Nov. 6.

The strongest sectors in the broad market, which was entirely in the green, were consumer cyclicals, basic materials, health care and financials.

Advancers outpaced decliners by a nearly 2.5-to-1 ratio on the New York Stock Exchange and a roughly 2.7-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq. Volume finished at 3.34 billion on the Big Board and 1.76 billion on the Nasdaq.

"Fiscal cliff concerns continue to be front and center, as the rumors from Washington tends to drive the overall market action for that day," said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist with Schaeffer's Investment Research, adding later: "

The fiscal cliff is a big deal, but we wouldn't be surprised if once again the overall fears are already priced into things here."

A bright spot in the latest U.S. economic data came courtesy the National Association of Realtors, which reported its pending home sales index showed a rise of 5.2% in October to its highest level in more than five years after increasing by an upwardly revised 0.4% the previous month. Economists had forecast a rise of 0.8%.

"Given the very high correlation between this indicator and actual existing home sales activity, we expect the pace of home sales in November to improve," said Millan Mulraine, senior U.S. macro strategist at TD Securities.

But Thursday's other datapoints prompted some caution commentary from economists.

The Labor Department reported that initial jobless claims for the week ended Nov. 24 were 393,000, a decrease of 23,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 416,000. The four-week moving average was 405,250, an increase of 7,500 from the previous week's average of 397,750.

Economists were predicting initial jobless claims would come in at 390,000.

Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas, said that jobless claims may have receded from their post-hurricane surge but remained elevated.

"For the month, claims are running 38k higher than in October, which is suggestive of a very weak employment report in November," he noted.

On top of the lingering influence of the Hurricane Sandy superstorm, the week ended Nov. 24 was affected by the Thanksgiving holiday, which likely decreased the number of claims filed in the holiday-shortened week, Dwyer said.

Continuing claims for the week ended Nov. 17 were 3.287 million, a decrease of 70,000 from the preceding week's upwardly revised level of 3.357 million.

The second estimate on U.S. third-quarter gross domestic product showed a rise of 2.7%, compared with the previous 2% growth estimate. GDP was forecast to rise by 2.8%.

Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at

Capital Economics

, said that while the GDP release showed a welcome upward revision most of the growth was driven by inventory building and government spending.

"The bigger the

inventories build up in the third quarter, the more likely we are to see a run down in the fourth," he noted.

Capital Economics estimates fourth-quarter GDP growth is now likely to come in a little below 2%.

Overseas markets were stronger Thursday amid optimism on U.S. budgetary negotiations. The FTSE 100 in London rose 1.15%, while the DAX in Germany bumped up 0.78%. Japan's Nikkei average and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index each closed up by 1%.

The Asian markets also got a lift as Japan's main opposition leader Shinzo Abe, who is tipped to become the next prime minister, continued to call for more aggressive monetary policy easing. Abe has held the prime minister post before, when his first stint lasted from Sept. 2006 to Sept. 2007.

Gold for February delivery rose $10.70 to settle at $1,729.50 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while January crude oil contracts increased $1.58 to close at $88.07 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury climbed 3/32 to lower the yield to 1.622%. The dollar was off 0.13%, according to the

U.S. dollar index.

In corporate news,

Tiffany & Co.

(TIF) - Get Report

, the upscale jewelry retailer, posted disappointing third-quarter results and cut full-year profit expectations as the company was challenged by continued high precious metal and diamond costs, economic weakness and a higher-than-expected tax rate. Shares tumbled 6.2%.



(KR) - Get Report

raised its fiscal 2012 adjusted earnings per share guidance after posting better-than-expected third-quarter results as identical supermarket sales growth, without fuel, came in at 3.2% in the quarter. The stock rose 4.8%.

Barnes & Noble

(BKS) - Get Report

, the book seller, posted a second-quarter loss of 4 cents a share, including the impact of its dividend on redeemable preferred shares, on revenue of $1.9 billion; analysts, on average, predicted a quarterly loss of 11 cents a share on revenue of $1.91 billion. The stock fell 11.2%.

Shares of



fell 5% after the retailer gave fourth-quarter earnings guidance of 36 to 41 cents a share, well below the consensus view for a profit of 54 cents a share.

Late Wednesday,


(NCR) - Get Report

agreed to acquire Israeli software company


( RTLX)for $30 a share, or $650 million. NCR shares were up 0.67% and Retalix shares gained 0.20% after a huge jump in yesterday's session.



shares tacked on 1.6% after the specialty retailer booked a better-than-expected 5% rise in November same-store sales.


(WDAY) - Get Report

, the enterprise cloud-based applications provider, posted a narrower-than-expected third-quarter loss and a better-than-expected current quarter revenue outlook. Still, shares fell 2.8%.

Shares of

Research In Motion

( RIMM) surged 4% after the BlackBerry maker's stock was upgraded to buy from neutral at Goldman.


(GES) - Get Report

shares added 1.9% after the apparel company declared a special dividend of $1.20 a share.

-- 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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