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) 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) was the worst performer on the Dow, falling 3.7% on news that a trial comparing its cholesterol drug Zetia to Abbott's ( ABT) Niaspan had been stopped early.

On the other hand an upgrade to Goldman Sachs ( GS) helped to boost the financial sector, and an upgrade to KB Home ( KBH) helped to juice housing stocks. Goldman rose 3.4%, and KB Home tacked on 9.3%. P/>
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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."

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