Stocks Opened Mildly Higher on Jobless Data

U.S. stocks opened with modest gains Thursday after the government reported jobless claims fell last week to their lowest level since 2008. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately added 37.47 points to 12,145.21. The S&P 500 Index rose 6.20 points to 1,249.92. The Nasdaq Composite climbed 15.25 points to 2,593.22.

The number of Americans filing initial claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits stands at the lowest level since April 2008, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. First-time filings for claims fell 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 364,000 in the week ended Dec. 17. The four-week average of initial claims — a smoother gauge than the weekly data — fell 8,000 to 380,250, the fewest since June 2008.

U.S. economic growth in the third quarter was a little bit weaker than previously forecast, mainly because consumers spent less money on health care, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. It grew at a 1.8% real annual pace in the July-through-September quarter, compared with the 2.0% estimated expansion reported last month.

The payroll tax impasse in Congress has put Medicare doctors on edge over the likelihood that their pay could be slashed 27.4% in two weeks time. Under current law, health care providers to the nation’s 45 million Medicare beneficiaries — including physicians, nurse practitioners, physical therapists and podiatrists — face reduced government reimbursement payments on Jan. 1.

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