Stocks Opened Slightly Higher after Data

U.S. stocks opened slightly higher on Thursday as investors digested a raft of weaker-than-expected economic data, including a surprise jump in weekly jobless claims. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately added 6.32 points, or 0.03%, to 18,103.22. The S&P 500 was up 0.36 point, or 0.02%, to 2,098.89. The Nasdaq Composite gained 9.11 points, or 0.18%, to 4,976.25.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week and nonfarm productivity contracted more sharply than previously thought in the fourth quarter. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased by 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 320,000 for the week ended Feb. 28, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

The European Central Bank will launch into quantitative easing next week having increased its economic growth forecasts for this year and next.

Brent crude future prices rose above $61 a barrel on Thursday, as investors brushed aside bearish U.S. inventories data to focus on tensions in Iraq and Libya. Brent crude front-month futures rose 63 cents to $61.18 a barrel by 1133 GMT while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude (CLc1) rose 50 cents to $52.03.

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