Stocks Up a Few Measly Points - TheStreet

Updated with closing stock prices.

Stocks in New York eked out slight gains Thursday as the market digested positive surprises from the weekly jobless claims report and

Alcoa's

(AA) - Get Report

quarterly earnings but also dismal June retail sales.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

rose 4.76 points, or 0.06%, to 8183.17, while the

S&P 500

gained 3.15 points, or 0.4%, to 882.68. The

Nasdaq Composite

climbed 5.38 points, or 0.3%, to 1752.55.

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

was the worst performer on the Dow, falling 3.7% on news that a trial comparing its cholesterol drug Zetia to

Abbott's

(ABT) - Get Report

Niaspan had been stopped early.

On the other hand an upgrade to

Goldman Sachs

(GS) - Get Report

helped to boost the financial sector, and an upgrade to

KB Home

(KBH) - Get Report

helped to juice housing stocks. Goldman rose 3.4%, and KB Home tacked on 9.3%. P/>

The Department of Labor gave stocks a boost early in the day with a report that there were 565,000 new jobless claims last week, far better than expectations for 603,000 and down from an upwardly revised 617,000 the week prior. However, the advance number on those continuing to receive benefits for the week ended June 27 increased 159,000 to 6.883 million, and the four-week moving average for insured unemployment was 6.769 million, an increase of 12,000 from the week prior.

"Of course, the bad thing is that continuing claims continue to be really bad," says Linda Duessel, equity market strategist at Federated Investors. "The backdrop for the unemployment situation hasn't changed; it continues to be the less-bad idea, which is the first thing you have to do before you get better."

In the second economic release of the day, the Department of Commerce reported that wholesale inventories fell by about 0.8% in May vs. expectations for a 1% decline and after a 1.3% reduction in April.

The major U.S. indices closed in mixed territory Wednesday ahead of Alcoa's results, the first quarterly report of the stocks in the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

. The aluminum maker reported its third straight quarterly loss but

beat expectations

on the top and bottom lines, sending shares higher in after-market trading.

"Now Alcoa has the staying power and reduced cost base to withstand the most serious downturn in the history of the aluminum industry," CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said in a statement. "Our operational and financial initiatives also provide Alcoa with the focus and flexibility to compete and grow in the most profitable segments of the industry as the economy recovers."

Earnings will get into full swing next week with reports from the likes of

JPMorgan Chase

(JPM) - Get Report

,

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

,

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

and

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

.

The last few weeks have been light on earnings preannouncements, which usually sets the stage for weakness in stocks during earnings as such announcements temper expectations and create the opportunity for positive surprises, says Duessell.

On the other hand, expectations aren't high. "The expectations are down 34%, which should mean that enough bad news is priced into the market that if they show us negative things, it shouldn't' hurt so much," she says.

Outside of earnings, a slew of retailers released their June sales. Department store

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Report

reported a not-as-bad as expected 8.2% decline in sales, while

Macy's

(M) - Get Report

said its sales fell 8.9%, roughly in line with expectations.

Costco

(COST) - Get Report

said its

same-store sales

fell 6% in June, also in line with expectations.

Among the misses: Target sales fell 6.2% vs. expectations for a 5.6% decline, and

Limited Brands

(LTD)

,

Wet Seal

(WTSLA)

and

The Children's Place

(PLCE) - Get Report

all reported double-digit declines in same-store sales, worse than expectations for 8%-9% declines.

In other news, insurer

American International Group

(AIG) - Get Report

is in discussions -- again -- with

MetLife

(MET) - Get Report

about a deal

for all or part of AIG's foreign life-insurance unit American Life Insurance, reports say. AIG shares were down 27.6%, or $3.62, at $9.48.

Meanwhile,

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

said CFO Edward "Ned" Kelly will become vice chairman and take on broader responsibilities for strategy and M&A. Many believe Kelly

is being groomed

as an eventual successor to CEO Vikram Pandit,

TheStreet.com

reports. Shares rose 1.9% to $2.67.

Commodities were mixed.

Crude oil

futures rose 27 cents to $60.41 while gold climbed $6.90 to $916.20. The dollar gained strength vs. the yen but weakened against the pound and euro.

Longer-dated Treasuries were falling in price, rising in yield after an $11 billion auction of 30-year bond notes with a bid-to-cover ratio of 2.36 - meaning investors offered 2.36 for every dollar of debt available-- and a high yield at 4.3%. The 10-year was losing 20/32 to yield 3.39%, while the 30-year edged down 1-10/32, yielding 4.27%.

Stocks overseas were mostly higher. In Europe, London's FTSE 100 and the DAX in Frankfurt rose 0.5% and 1.3%, respectively. In Asia, the Nikkei in Japan lost 1.4%, but the Hang Seng in Hong Kong advanced 0.4%.