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Better data on jobs, retail sales lift stocks

THE stock market's rally is shifting to a lower gear.

The Dow Jones industrial average tacked on a modest 32 points yesterday after being up as much as 139 points, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up to reach its highest level since November.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow rose 31.90, or 0.4 percent, to 8,770.92. The S&P 500 rose 5.74, or 0.6 percent, to 944.89, while the Nasdaq Composite index rose 9.29, or 0.5 percent, to 1,862.37.

Investors welcomed a drop in jobless claims, growth in retail sales and better-than-expected demand at a government debt auction. But traders also seemed mindful of how far the market has come in its three-month rally.

The stock market has at times run low on fresh evidence of economic recovery that could push the rally further. The data out yesterday helped but weren't enough to keep the pace of buying strong.

The Labor Department reported that the number of newly laid-off Americans filing for jobless benefits fell last week by 24,000 to 601,000, better than the forecast of economists polled by Thomson Reuters. However the number of unemployed continuing to file for claims rose to 6.8 million, the highest on records dating to 1967.

Meanwhile the Commerce Department said retail sales rose 0.5 percent in May, ending two months of decreases and marking the largest gain since January. Investors watch those numbers because consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity.

Doug Lockwood, chief investment officer at Cornerstone Wealth Management said retail sales growth is one of the strongest indicators that the recession may be easing.

Hope of a recovery has pushed the S&P 500 index up 39.7 percent from a 12-year low on March 9.

"There has been a lot of rallying and rebounding going on, but we have to continue to see improvements," Lockwood said.

Stocks rose to their highest levels in afternoon trading when the Treasury Department said an auction for 30-year Treasury bonds attracted strong demand.

That allowed investors to set aside some of their recent worries about higher interest rates. Stocks lost ground Wednesday following a relatively weak auction for 10-year notes.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 1.2 billion shares, essentially flat with Wednesday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 2.37, or 0.5 percent, to 526.08.


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