Stocks Closed Higher on Improving Economic Data

U.S. stocks closed with broad gains on Thursday, as U.S. jobless claims remained steady and housing prices rose slightly. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 46.02 points, or 0.36%, to 12,984.69. The S&P 500 gained 5.80 points, or 0.43%, to 1,363.46. The Nasdaq Composite advanced 23.81 points, or 0.81%, to 2,956.98.

New claims for unemployment benefits were unchanged last week, holding at the lowest level since the early days of the 2007-2009 recession and giving a fresh sign the battered labor market is healing. Workers filed 351,000 initial claims for state unemployment benefits, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

U.S. home prices rose 0.7% on a seasonally-adjusted basis in December, an up finish to a year in which prices fell 2.4%, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Consumer confidence in the U.S. increased last week to the highest level since April 2008 as more Americans had a favorable view of their finances. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to minus 38.4 in the period ended Feb. 19, its fifth consecutive gain, from minus 39.8 the previous week.

Apple Inc on Thursday adopted a measure long desired by investors and corporate governance activists, granting its shareholders a bigger say in the appointment of directors to the board of the world’s largest technology company.

Crude-oil futures rallied Thursday to end at their highest level since May as a weekly government report showed a smaller-than-expected rise in inventories and the dollar traded lower throughout the day. Crude for April delivery rose $1.55, or 1.5%, to settle at $107.83 barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Profit at American International Group Inc. (NYSE:AIG) rose 77% to $19.8 billion in the fourth quarter, driven by a massive tax benefit taken after the insurer concluded it was likely to report sustainable profits in the years ahead. AIG’s operating profit of $1.6 billion, or 82 cents a share, beat analysts’ consensus estimate of a 63-cent profit per share.

Gap Inc.’s (NYSE:GPS) fiscal fourth-quarter earnings fell 40% as the casual-apparel retailer’s margins continued to weaken. The company also said its board approved $1 billion in additional share repurchases and has raised the annual dividend by 11% to 50 cents a share.

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