Stocks Started Higher on Economic Data

U.S. stocks began higher on Thursday after reports brightened views of the economy, with housing starts rising more than anticipated and jobless claims dropping to a five-year low.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately gained 37.86 points to 13,549.09. The S&P 500 index rose 3.95 points to 1,476.58. The Nasdaq Composite advanced 12.08 points to 3,129.62.

Construction on new U.S. homes jumped in December to the highest rate in more than four years, with gains across the country, as well as in single-family homes and buildings, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported Thursday. In the freshest data signaling a strengthening housing market, starts rose 12.1% in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000 — the highest level since June 2008.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid plummeted to a five-year low last week, a hopeful sign the job market may be improving. Weekly unemployment benefit applications fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Citigroup Inc (NYS:C) posted $2.32 billion of charges for layoffs and lawsuits in the first financial report under its new chief executive, Michael Corbat, who cautioned that the bank needs more time to deal with the problems it faces.

Bank of America Corp’s (BAC) fourth-quarter profit dropped after it took some $5 billion of mortgage-related charges, but the second-largest U.S. bank showed signs that it was moving past its problems as it shrank the group that deals with its troubled home loans.

BlackRock’s (BLK) fourth-quarter net income climbed 24 percent as the value of the assets it managed for its clients grew and performance fees increased. Its performance topped analysts’ estimates. For the three months ended Dec. 31, BlackRock Inc. earned $690 million, or $3.93 per share. That’s up from $555 million, or $3.05 per share, the year before.

General Motors says it will invest $1.5 billion in its North American factories this year. GM is revamping 70 percent of its U.S. models as it switches from the oldest lineup in the industry to the newest.

Airlines scrambled on Thursday to rearrange flights as Europe, Japan, Qatar and India joined the United States in grounding Boeing Co (NYSE: BA – news) ‘s 787 Dreamliner passenger jets while battery-related problems are investigated.






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