Dow, S&P 500 at new 18-month highs

By Alexandra Twin, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Dow and S&P 500 ended at fresh 18-month highs Thursday, but tech concerns limited the Nasdaq composite's gains ahead of a long weekend.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added 70 points, or 0.7%, ending at 10,927.07, its highest close since Sept. 26, 2008, when it ended the session at 11,143.13. The blue-chip indicator rose to within 43 points of 11,000, a key psychological indicator, before pulling back.

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The S&P 500 index (SPX) gained 9 points, or 0.7%. The Nasdaq composite (COMP) added 5 points, or 0.2%.

Stocks rose through the early afternoon as investors welcomed reports showing the pace of job losses is slowing and manufacturing is picking up both in the U.S. and abroad. The advance briefly lost steam in mid-afternoon, before picking up again near the close. Stock markets will be closed for Good Friday, although Treasury markets will have a shortened session.

Weaker-than-forecast readings on private-sector employment and manufacturing dragged on stocks Wednesday at the end of an up quarter, in which the Dow gained 4.1%, the S&P 500 gained 4.9% and the Nasdaq gained 5.7%.

Stocks have been on the rise since mid- February, as worries about a global debt crisis have given way to renewed optimism about the economic recovery. All three major stock indexes have risen in six of the last seven weeks.

On Thursday, reports showed that weekly jobless claims continued to slip, U.S. manufacturing continued grew at the fastest pace since 2004 and construction spending retreated. Reports coming out of China and the United Kingdom showed manufacturing activity picked up the pace in March.

"The initial claims number shows we are seeing shows slow and steady improvement in the jobs market and the manufacturing numbers are providing reassurance about the global economy," said Jim Baird, chief investment strategist at Plante Moran Financial Advisors.

However, he said Wednesday's weak report on private-sector employment and the still relatively high weekly jobless claims numbers over the last few months show the jobs market is not recovering enough to spark economic growth.

"To get a good number tomorrow would be a strong indicator that we are moving toward a period of job creation," Baird said.

Jobs market: The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment fell last week to 439,000 from 445,000 in the previous week, matching the lowest level since August 2008. Forecasts were for 440,000 claims, according to a consensus of economists surveyed by Briefing.com.

The Labor Department report also showed that continuing claims, a measure of Americans who have been receiving benefits for a year or more, fell to 4,662,000 from 4,668,000 the previous week. Economists thought continuing claims would fall to 4,618,000.

A separate report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas showed that planned job cuts rose in March. Employers said they were planing to cut 67,611 jobs in March, a rise of 61% from February's 42,090 cuts.

The biggest employment report of the week is Friday's March jobs report from the government. Employers are expected to have added 190,000 jobs to their payrolls in March after cutting 36,000 in February. The unemployment rate, generated by a separate survey, is expected to hold steady at 9.7%.

Manufacturing: The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing indexrose to 59.6 in March from 56.5 in the previous month. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com expected a reading of 57.

February construction spending fell 1.3% after falling 1.4% in January, according to a Census Bureau report released in the morning. Economists thought it would fall 1%.

Company news: BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIMM) slipped after it posted fiscal fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that rose from a year earlier, but missed forecasts due to weaker-than-expected phone shipments.

The company also issued a fiscal first-quarter earnings and revenue forecast that was better than expected. But shares fell Thursday as analysts and investors expressed worries that the company is not keeping up with Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) and Google (GOOG, Fortune 500).

Primerica, Citigroup's soon-to-be spun-off life insurance division rallied more than 20% in its first day of trading as a public company.

Autos: General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) and Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) were among the automakers reporting improved sales in March, although forecasts were short of more bullish analyst estimates released earlier in the month.

Ford said sales rose 40% versus earlier forecasts for a gain of 55%. GM said sales rose 21% versus forecasts for a gain of 27%.

Overall auto industry sales were expected to rise sharply in March in comparison to a weak period a year earlier.

The dollar and commodities: The dollar gained versus the euro and fell against the yen.

COMEX gold for June delivery rose $11.60 to settle at $1,126.10 per ounce.

U.S. light crude oil for May delivery rose $1.11 to settle at $84.87 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest close for crude since October 2008.

Bonds: Treasury prices tumbled, raising the yield on the 10-year note to 3.86% from 3.83% late Wednesday. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.

World markets: In overseas trading, European markets rallied. Asian markets ended higher as well.

Market breadth was negative. On the New York Stock Exchange, winners beat losers eleven to four on volume of 930 million shares. On the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners five to four on volume of 2.28 billion shares.  To top of page

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Index Last Change % Change
Dow 28,132.05 220.75 0.79%
Nasdaq 8,717.32 63.27 0.73%
S&P 500 3,168.57 26.94 0.86%
Treasuries 1.90 0.11 5.98%
Data as of 10:15pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
General Electric Co 11.44 0.47 4.28%
Advanced Micro Devic... 42.59 3.12 7.90%
Danaher Corp 151.30 1.63 1.09%
Bank of America Corp... 34.68 1.04 3.09%
Ford Motor Co 9.32 0.21 2.31%
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