US STOCKS-Dow hits intraday high again; jobless claims help

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 07, 2013 18:50 hrs

* Dow up 0.3 pct, S&P 500 up 0.1 pct, Nasdaq up 0.1 pct

* Another intraday record high for the Dow

* Initial jobless claims unexpectedly fell last week

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK, March 7 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks advanced on Thursday, pushing the Dow to an intraday record for a third session, as jobless claims data pointed to a pick-up in the labor market's recovery and investors looked for opportunities to buy into the recent rally.

Growth-oriented sectors led the day's gains. The S&P financial index shot up 0.7 percent and hit an intraday high. Shares of Dow component Bank of America rose 2.3 percent to $12.19.

Stocks rose for a fifth day, and the Dow climbed as high as 14,354.69 after initially breaking into uncharted territory on Tuesday. The broader S&P 500 sits more than 1 percent below its record close.

A strengthening economy and loose monetary policy by central banks around the world have pushed U.S. stocks higher this year.

"The momentum behind the economy is also behind the stock market right now," said Bryant Evans, portfolio manager at Cozad Asset Management in Champaign, Illinois.

Investors have kept buying into the market since Tuesday's rally, but gains have been more subdued.

Worries remain as Washington debates the path of fiscal policy, the euro zone is not out of its crisis, and U.S. economic growth is still slow.

"Right now, there is some concession that the strength of the economy is going to overcome these rough patches," Evans said.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 35.19 points, or 0.25 percent, at 14,331.43. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 2.06 points, or 0.13 percent, at 1,543.52, its fifth day of gains. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 4.41 points, or 0.14 percent, at 3,226.78.

The Dow is up 9.4 percent since Dec. 31, while the S&P 500 is up 8.2 percent.

The Russell 2000 Index, which measures the performance of 2,000 U.S. small-cap companies, hit an intraday record high in Thursday's session.

The Russell 1000 and the Russell 3000 also climbed to record intraday highs in Thursday's session.

The latest economic data was encouraging, as the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 340,000. It was the second straight week of declines.

Investors will stay focused on the labor market ahead of Friday's non-farm payrolls report, which is expected to show the economy added 160,000 jobs in February. While it has been a soft spot in the economic recovery, the labor market is seen as healing slowly.

In a separate report Thursday, the Commerce Department said the U.S. international trade deficit widened more than expected in January as crude oil imports rose and fuel oil exports fell. In contrast, the department cut its estimate of the December trade gap.

Network equipment maker Ciena jumped 16.4 percent to $17.39 after it reported a smaller quarterly loss.

Teen apparel retailer Hot Topic Inc said it will be bought by private equity firm Sycamore Partners for about $600 million. Shares surged 29.2 percent to $13.89.

On the down side, shares of PetSmart fell 7 percent to $61.90 after the company's full-year profit forecast missed analysts' estimates. At least two brokerages cut their price targets on the retailer's stock.

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