Stocks Closed Higher on Data

U.S. stocks rallied to close higher Thursday as strong labor market and retail sales data lifted optimism a day before the U.S. employment report for June. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 93.47 points, or 0.74%, at 12,719.49. The S&P 500 Index closed up 14.00 points, or 1.05%, at 1,353.22, and the Nasdaq Composite Index increased by 38.64 points, or 1.36%, to close at 2,872.66.

U.S. private employers stepped up hiring in June and the number of Americans filing for jobless benefits fell last week. Payrolls processor ADP said on Thursday private sector employment increased 157,000 after a modest 36,000 gain in May, and beating economists’ expectations for a 68,000 rise. A separate report from the Labor Department showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 418,000 last week. The decline was more than economists’s expectations for a fall to 420,000.

In retail sales news, Saks (SKS) said June owned sales totaled $258.6 million, up 8.7% from a year ago. Comparable store sales increased 11.9%.  Also, Target (TGT) said June net sales were $6.26 billion, an increase of 5.7%. June comparable-store sales increased 4.5%, at the high end of its expectations, it said. Macy’s (M) said June total sales were $2.39 billion, up 7.5% from a year ago. Same-store sales rose 6.7%, exceeding its expectations, it said. It now expects same-store sales to rise by approximately 6% for Q2. For the FY, it sees same-store sales rising approximately 4.8%. M is up 3.2%.

The Obama administration is making it easier for out-of-work homeowners to stay in their homes, as it tries to revamp its troubled foreclosure-prevention program. Starting Aug. 1, the Federal Housing Administration will extend the period for unemployed homeowners to miss mortgage payments to a full year from three or four months. That will allow qualified homeowners to go without making a monthly payment for 12 months before the foreclosure process begins.

DuPont engineers didn’t build a safety enclosure to prevent workers from breathing highly toxic gas at a West Virginia chemical plant because they believed the $2 million project would set a precedent for safeguarding other hazardous materials, a federal probe released Thursday said.

Oil prices rose to above $98 a barrel Thursday. Benchmark oil for August delivery rose $2.02, or 2.1 percent, to settle at $98.67 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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