Stocks Extend Gains on Greece, Jobless Claims

U.S. stocks gained for a third day on Thursday, after U.S. jobless claims dipped and Greece reached an austerity deal that should lead to a new round of international aid. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 6.51 points, or 0.05%, to 12,890.46, its highest close since May 2008. The S&P 500 rose 1.99 points, or 0.15%, to 1,351.95, its highest since July 2011. And the Nasdaq Composite gained 11.37 points, or 0.39%, to 2,927.23, its highest since December 2000.

The leaders of Greece’s main political parties finally reached agreement Thursday on new austerity measures demanded by international creditors — just hours before a crucial meeting of euro-zone finance ministers in Brussels at which a new loan program for the nation will be discussed.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell again last week, the government said Thursday, supplying further proof  that the U.S. labor market continues to mend. Jobless claims dropped by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 358,000 in the week ended Feb. 4, the Labor Department said. That’s near a four-year low.

The House passed a bill banning Congress and executive branch officials from insider trading, but brushed aside a provision aimed at reining in those who pry financial information from Congress and sell it to investment firms.

The U.S. judge overseeing MF Global’s bankruptcy plans a closer review before deciding whether any of an estimated $190 million of insurance coverage for former company executives should instead go to customers.

Oracle Corp agreed to buy Taleo Corp, a maker of Web-based software for recruiting employees, for about $1.9 billion, as technology giants battle for the top spot in the fast-growing cloud computing market.

Crude-oil futures rose on Thursday, extending gains for a third session. Crude for March delivery rose $1.13, or 1.1%, to end at $99.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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