By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks edged higher on Thursday after two days of declines following encouraging data on the labor market, which raised investors’ hopes for Friday’s key payrolls report.
The S&P consumer discretionary index (.SPLRCD), up 0.7 percent, was among the day’s better-performing indexes, helped by gains in CarMax (KMX.N) shares. The stock jumped 9.4 percent to $ 74.80 following stronger-than-expected results.
Oil prices fell as much as 4 percent after global powers negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran called for a news conference after over a week of talks in Switzerland.
Tehran hopes for a deal that will end crippling economic sanctions and allow it to sell millions of barrels of oil. This supply would add to a global glut that has already sharply pressured oil prices.
Energy shares slipped between positive and negative territory as Brent crude oil hit session lows.
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week. The report follows lower-than-expected readings on private sector employment and manufacturing on Wednesday.
But the big news on the labor front will come with the influential March jobs report, due on Friday, when the stock market is closed for Good Friday. Market participants will be unable to trade off the report until Monday.
“If the report is weaker than expected, people might become more optimistic about interest rates,” said John Carey, portfolio manager at Pioneer Investment Management in Boston, though he said playing it ahead of time could be tricky. “Bad news could be good news.”
At 1:45 p.m. EDT, the Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) rose 46.51 points, or 0.26 percent, to 17,744.69, the S&P 500 (.SPX) gained 5.94 points, or 0.29 percent, to 2,065.63 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) added 6.59 points, or 0.14 percent, to 4,886.82.
The Federal Reserve has said it won’t raise interest rates until it deems the economy strong enough to withstand such a move, which will raise borrowing costs and possibly crimp spending. A below-consensus jobs number on Friday could ease concerns of a nearer-term rate rise, Carey said.
The release of the jobs report has only coincided with Good Friday four times since 1999, according to data from Bespoke, most recently in 2012. Analysts expect 245,000 jobs to have been added in the month, down from 295,000 in February.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,903 to 1,046, for a 1.82-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,624 issues rose and 1,043 fell for a 1.56-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 18 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 86 new highs and 28 new lows.
(Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelcia; Editing by Bernadette Baum)
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