Stocks spike to new 2009 highs

Wall Street rallies as investors saw signs of stabilization on the labor front. Dow closes at highest level this year.

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By Alexandra Twin, senior writer

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NEW YORK( -- Stocks surged Thursday, hitting their highest levels in nearly 9 months, as investors eyed the latest batch of better-than-expected profits and forecasts and a report that suggested the labor market is starting to stabilize.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) rose 83 points, or 0.9%, ending at its best level since Nov. 4. It was also the highest close for the blue-chip index in 2009.

The S&P 500 (SPX) index added 11 points, or 1.2%, ending at its highest point since Nov. 4.

The Nasdaq composite (COMP) gained 16 points, or 0.8%, to reach its highest close since Oct. 1.

The major gauges had managed bigger gains earlier in the session, but lost a little momentum by the close.

Stocks drifted for the first three sessions of this week, as the recent euphoria that lifted markets faded out. The major gauges all gained between 11% and 12% in the previous two weeks as investors welcomed a spate of better-than-expected quarterly results.

But after this week's early volatility, stocks charged ahead Thursday.

"The market is finally getting its arms around the fact that we are close to being out of this recession," said Burt White, chief investment officer at LPL Financial.

White pointed to three supporting factors: the drop in the continuing claims portion of the weekly jobless report, the cumulative effect of better profit reports, and lessening fears about a slowdown in Asia and the global economy.

Friday brings the biggest economic report of the week, the first reading on second-quarter gross domestic product growth. GDP is expected to have shrank at a 1.5% annualized rate, according to forecasts. GDP shrank at a 5.5% annualized rate in the first quarter.

"It's important than GDP is roughly in line," said Ron Kiddoo, chief investment officer at Cozad Asset Management. "If we get a bad number, you're going to see a selloff."

The Chicago PMI, a regional reading on manufacturing, is due shortly after the start of trading and is expected to have risen to 43 in July from 39.9 in June.

Also on tap: quarterly results from Dow component Chevron (CVX, Fortune 500). The oil services firm is expected to report earnings of 90 cents per share, versus $2.90 a year earlier.

Labor market: The number of Americans filing unemployment claims for a week or more, a measure known as continuing claims, slipped by more than expected.

According to a Labor Department report, continuing claims dipped to 6.2 million last week, from a revised 6.25 million the previous week, for their lowest level since mid-April and short of forecasts for 6.3 million.

The continuing claims report overshadowed the regular weekly jobless claims report, which showed a bigger-than-expected rise to 584,000. However, that rise was largely related to seasonal issues related to auto plant shutdowns.

Quarterly results: Two Dow components reported results Thursday morning.

Oil behemoth Exxon Mobil (XOM, Fortune 500) reported a steep drop in second-quarter income due to weaker demand and falling oil and gas prices. Weaker quarterly earnings missed estimates on weaker revenue that topped estimates. Shares fell 1%.

Dow component Travelers (TRV, Fortune 500) also reported weaker profit that missed forecasts. But the financial company also boosted its full-year earnings forecast. Shares fell 2%.

Among other companies reporting results, telecom Motorola (MOT, Fortune 500) posted higher quarterly earnings that topped forecasts on weaker revenue that missed. The company shipped 14.8 million phones in the quarter, nearly half what it shipped a year ago, but more than what analysts expected. Shares gained 9.4%.

Other movers: Stocks gains were broad-based Thursday, with 25 of 30 Dow components rising, led by IBM (IBM, Fortune 500), Chevron (CVX, Fortune 500), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ, Fortune 500), Caterpillar (CAT, Fortune 500), Coca-Cola (KO, Fortune 500) and United Technologies (UTX, Fortune 500).

Shares of Dow component General Electric (GE, Fortune 500) gained nearly 7%. Goldman Sachs upgraded it to "buy" from "neutral" after legislators appeared to back down on the question of whether GE should separate itself from its troubled finance unit GE Capital.

A variety of financial shares gained, including Dow components Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) and American Express (AXP, Fortune 500).

Other financial gainers included Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500), Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) and Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500). Regional banks KeyCorp (KEY, Fortune 500), Regions Financial (RF, Fortune 500) and Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB, Fortune 500) advanced as well.

Market breadth was positive. On the New York Stock Exchange, winners beat losers three to one on volume of 1.36 billion shares. On the Nasdaq, advancers topped decliners two to one on volume of 2.57 billion shares.

Bonds: Treasury prices rose, lowering the yield on the benchmark 10-year note to 3.60% from 3.66% late Wednesday. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.

Other markets: In global trading, European and Asian markets both gained on improved profit reports.

U.S. light crude oil for September delivery rose $3.57 to settle at $66.72 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In currency trading, the dollar gained versus the euro and fell against the Japanese yen.

COMEX gold for December delivery rose $7.60 to settle at $937.30 an ounce. To top of page

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