* Jobless claims disappoint, following private sector report
* Best Buy rallies on plan to sell discounted iPads
* Facebook shares rise on new app software, Google falls
* Dow up 0.4 pct; S&P up 0.4 pct; Nasdaq up 0.2 pct
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, April 4 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended slightly
higher on Thursday after the Bank of Japan announced aggressive,
market-lifting policies to jump-start its economy, but weak U.S.
jobs data capped gains.
The BOJ's surprisingly dramatic stimulus plan came along
with supportive comments from European and Federal Reserve
officials, suggesting central bank policies will keep
underpinning the world's economy to the benefit of stocks.
The iShares MSCI Japan Index exchange-traded fund
jumped 4 percent to $10.89, while U.S.-listed shares of Toyota
Motor climbed 4.7 percent to $105.63 and WisdomTree Japan
ETF jumped 7.5 percent to $43.88.
The financial sector was among the best performing, with the
S&P 500 financial index up 0.9 percent.
The Fed's stimulus efforts along with signs of improvement
in the U.S. economy have helped stocks rally since the start of
the year. While the S&P 500 broke above its closing record last
week, it has yet to surpass its intraday record high of
1,576.09, and investors have mostly pulled back from the market
"The Fed officials certainly have been going out of their
way to point out that they're staying the course and sticking
with their program, which has probably been reassuring for
markets," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at
OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois.
An unexpected jump in U.S. weekly jobless claims to a
four-month high raised questions about the labor market's
recovery a day ahead of the U.S. government's widely watched
monthly jobs report. A report on Wednesday showed U.S. companies
hired at the slowest pace in five months in March.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 55.76 points,
or 0.38 percent, at 14,606.11. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index
gained 6.29 points, or 0.40 percent, at 1,559.98. The
Nasdaq Composite Index was up 6.38 points, or 0.20
percent, at 3,224.98.
The S&P 500 is up 9.4 percent since the start of the year.
Among the latest comments from Fed officials, Dennis
Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta,
suggested the Fed's program to stimulate the economy would
continue for at least a few more months.
Charles Evans, head of the Chicago Fed and an influential
dove at the central bank, said rates could stay at rock bottom
until the unemployment rate falls to 5.5 percent from the
current 7.7 percent.
Overseas, European Central Central Bank President Mario
Draghi opened the door to an interest rate cut as soon as next
Retailer Best Buy Co Inc was the S&P's top
percentage gainer, jumping 16.1 percent to $25.13 after saying
it would offer a 30 percent discount on its current stock of
Apple iPad 3 tablets in the United States.
Shares of Facebook rose 3.1 percent to $27.07 in
heavy volume after it unveiled a new family of phone
applications that will let users display mobile versions of
their newsfeed and messages on the home screen of a wide range
of devices based on Google's Android system.
Analysts said the move could divert users from Google's
services. Its shares fell 1.4 percent to $795.07.
The jobless claims data was the latest bit of disappointing
economic news. Jobless claims jumped to 385,000 in the latest
week, confounding expectations that claims would drop by 7,000
Friday's Labor Department report is expected to show 200,000
jobs were created last month, according to a Reuters survey. The
unemployment rate is expected to remain at 7.7 percent.
After the closing bell, shares of network gear maker F5
Networks fell 15.6 percent at $76.30 after it estimated
results would be below analysts' expecations.
Earnings forecasts have declined heading into first-quarter
reports, which are due to begin next week with Alcoa. S&P
500 earnings are expected to have risen just 1.6 percent from a
year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data, down from a January
1 growth forecast of 4.3 percent.
If the majority of results beat expectations, as has been
the trend, "there's a good chance we could see the markets
resume their upward trend," said Jankovskis.
Volume was roughly 6 billion shares traded on the New York
Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the
2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.
Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by about 9 to 5 and
on the Nasdaq by roughly 5 to 3.