Stocks Open Higher After Unemployment Claims Fall

By STEVE ROTHWELL

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The Dow pushed further into record territory Thursday, having surpassed its previous all-time high two days ago. The catalyst was the latest evidence that hiring is picking up.

Stocks started higher after the Labor Department reported that the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell by 7,000 last week, driving the four-week average to its lowest in five years. The drop is a positive sign ahead of Friday's employment report.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 33.25 points, or 0.2 percent, to 14,329.49. The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 2.80 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,544.26. Both indexes rose for the fifth day straight.

The Dow barreled through a record high Tuesday and has added to its gains since then. The S&P 500 is also closing in on its own record high of 1,565, which was also reached on Oct. 9, 2007, the same day of the Dow's previous peak. The S&P would need to rise 21 points, or 1.3 percent, to set a record.

Investors have been buying stocks on optimism that employers are slowly starting to hire again and that the housing market is recovering. Growing company earnings are also encouraging investors to get into the market. The Dow is 9.4 percent higher this year and the broader S&P 500 is up 8.3 percent.

"If you have a multi-year time horizon, equities are an attractive asset, but don't be surprised to see some volatility, especially after the big run we've had," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at RDM Financial Group.

Boeing gained Thursday, advancing $1.97, or 2.5 percent, to $81.05 following reports that U.S. regulators were poised to approve a plan within days to allow the plane maker to begin test flights of its 787 Dreamliner. The 787 fleet has been grounded since Jan. 16 because of safety concerns about the plane's batteries. Twenty stocks in the 30-member index advanced.

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