This story was updated at 4:20 p.m. EST.
U.S. stocks eked out slight gains Thursday ahead of Friday’s monthly U.S. jobs report following an early-week rally that was fueled by a rise in commodity prices.
"We expect the unemployment rate to remain unchanged at 4.9 percent, with the growth rate of average hourly earnings edging back up to 2.6 percent," said Steve Murphy, U.S. economist at Capital Economics. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters also expect the jobless rate to hold at 4.9 percent, with 190,000 jobs created last month, up from a preliminary read of 151,000 in January.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) gained 44.31 points, or 0.26 percent, to 16,943.63 on Thursday. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index (INDEXSP:.INX) rose 6.95 points, or 0.35 percent, to 1,993.40. The Nasdaq composite (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) closed almost where it started the day’s session, edging up 4 points, or 0.01 percent, to 4,707.42.
The Dow rose nearly 350 points on Tuesday before the rally fizzled by midweek.
U.S. Labor Department data released before markets opened showed an unexpected rise in Americans filing for unemployment claims for the week ended Feb. 27, to a seasonally adjusted 278,000, higher than the average 271,000 forecast from economists conducted by Reuters. But the four-week moving average, considered a less-volatile measure, declined to its lowest level since November.
Eight out of the 10 S&P 500 sectors were up Thursday afternoon, with the biggest gains in energy stocks. Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE:CAT) led Dow industrials gains Thursday while McDonald's Corporation (NYSE:MCD) led declines.
Also released Thursday morning: the ISM non-manufacturing index, a widely watched monthly measure of services-sector business activity. The index dropped to 53.4 in February, down from 53.5 the previous month. But the read was higher than the 53.2 average estimate of economists polled by Thomson Reuters.
Oil prices were up late Thursday afternoon after U.S. crude made slight gains in after-hours futures trading. U.S. West Texas Intermediate gained 0.09 percent to $34.69 per barrel for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the other major global benchmark, gained 0.65 percent to $37.17 for May delivery on the London ICE Futures Exchange.
The benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury fell by Thursday afternoon to 1.83 percent from the previous day’s close of 1.87 percent. The bond yield typically rises when investors are more confident about the markets and falls when concerns flare. Gold, another so-called safe harbor investment, gained 0.61 percent to $1,261.80. Gold prices tend to rise as confidence in the markets falls.
European markets closed down Thursday. The broad Stoxx Europe 600 index settled 0.45 percent lower. The Paris-based CAC 40 lost 0.2 percent to 4,416 while London’s FTSE shed 0.3 percent to 6,130. Frankfurt’s DAX lost 0.3 percent to 9,752.
In Asia, markets were mixed, with China’s Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 Index of the mainland’s largest companies closing up 0.23 percent to 3,058. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.31 percent to 19,942. Japan’s Nikkei gained 1.3 percent to 16,960. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.2 percent to 5,081, while South Korea’s main Kospi Index advanced 0.6 percent to 1,958.
Stocks moving U.S. markets on Thursday include:
Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ:COST) shares fell after the warehouse retailer reported lower-than-expected profit and revenue in line with forecasts for its fiscal second-quarter ended Feb. 14. The Issaquah, Washington-based rival to Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club reported growth in store sales for the first time in four quarters. Costco’s share price is up about 2 percent over the past 12 months and down about 7 percent for the year as of Thursday morning.
Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) stock plunged nearly 7 percent after the subscription-based global nutrition and weight management company said it identified “errant” active new-member data. The company’s share price is up about 68 percent over the past 12 months and down about 2 percent since the start of the year.
Shares in Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) stock rose after investment bank Piper Jaffray upgraded the Burbank, California, media giant to “overweight” from “neutral” based on a roster of upcoming films over the next five years. Disney shares are down about 8 percent over the past 12 months and down about 7 percent since the start of the year.
American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) stock dropped after the Pittsburgh-based apparel and accessories retailer matched Wall Street estimates on revenue and profits for its fourth quarter ended Jan. 30, but issued a forecast for the current quarter that was lower than analysts’ estimates.