NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks closed a holiday-shortened week with minor gains on Thursday as investors cast early bets on the March jobs data coming out Friday morning, when the U.S. markets are closed for Good Friday.
The uncertainty fueled volatility throughout the day, although all the benchmark indexes managed to hold small gains through to close. The S&P 500 was up 0.35%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.36%, and the Nasdaq moved 0.14% higher.
Economists expect U.S. nonfarm payrolls to have added 240,000 jobs in March, the 13th month above 200,000. The unemployment rate is expected to remain stable at 5.5%.
"When you've got data coming when there's not normal trading activity, which happens periodically, what you see is you see a lot of people cast their bets earlier in the week," said U.S. Bank Wealth Management regional investment strategist David Heidel in a call. "People will come back next week and decide if they were right or wrong, but the main impact is it's probably pushing forward some of the trades that would have been done later in the week."
Increased confidence in the labor market came after weekly initial jobless claims came in lower than expected, falling 20,000 to 268,000 for the week ended March 28. Economists had expected 285,000 new filings for unemployment benefits over the week.
Factory orders in February climbed 0.2% to $470 billion after a 0.7% drop in January. Economists had expected a 0.5% decline in February. The trade balance for February narrowed more than expected, coming in at a $35.4 billion deficit compared to an expected $41.2 billion deficit. In January, the trade balance stood at a $42.66 billion deficit.
The outline of an Iran nuclear deal was reached on Thursday afternoon with a June 30 deadline for a final agreement to be reached. Crude oil was back under $50 a barrel as the deal could involve a lifting of economic sanctions allowing Iranian crude to flood an already-oversupplied market.
President Barack Obama called the framework agreement a historic "good deal" in a press conference shortly after the announcement. West Texas Intermediate dropped 1.3% to $49.45 a barrel.
McDonald's (MCD) - Get Report captured headlines on Thursday as the latest company to raise its minimum wage, following in the footsteps of Wal-mart (WMT) - Get Report. Shares were down 0.5% after the fast food chain announced plans to increase benefits and raise worker wages, aiming for 90,000 workers to earn an average $9.90 an hour by July 1.
Google (GOOGL) - Get Report tumbled more than 1% on reports the European Union is preparing to file antitrust charges against the search engine. The regulator is looking to conclude a five-year investigation into the company.
Micron Technology (MU) - Get Report was on watch after the semiconductor company issued soft revenue guidance for its upcoming quarter of $3.8 billion to $4.05 billion. That came in below estimates of $4.29 billion. CarMax (KMX) - Get Report added 9.3% after quarterly profit of 67 cents a share beat analysts' estimates by 7 cents.
A week after Kraft (KRFT) and Heinz announced their merger, Kraft is under investigation by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The company is accused of manipulating wheat prices alongisde former subsidiary Mondelez (MDLZ) - Get Report.
For the week ahead, the March non-manufacturing survey is scheduled for release Monday, the Labor Department's JOLTS report for February on Tuesday, and, most importantly, the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve March meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Those minutes will give a more in-depth look at the Fed's line of thinking on rate hikes.
The earnings season kicks off with unofficial season starter Alcoa (AA) - Get Report reporting Wednesday after the bell. Bed Bath & Beyond (BBY) - Get Report, Rite Aid (RAD) - Get Report and Pier 1 Imports (PIR) - Get Report will also report Wednesday, while Walgreens (WBA) - Get Report will report Thursday morning.