Stocks slightly higher; Dow goes for 7 in a row

SAMANTHA BOMKAMP AP Business Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks were just barely in the green Thursday after a pair of positive economic reports. The Dow Jones Industrial average clung to a gain and had a chance to extend its longest winning streak in a year.

Just before noon EDT, the Dow was up 10 points at 13,204. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up four at 1,398. The Nasdaq composite index added 12 points to 3,053.

A higher close for the Dow would mark its seventh consecutive gain. The last longer streak was eight days in February 2011.

Investors applauded further signs of an improving economy.

The government said applications for unemployment benefits fell last week to 351,000, matching a four-year low. When applications stay below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

A separate report showed that prices paid by wholesalers rose less than expected in February, despite a spike in gasoline prices. The producer price index has increased 3.3 percent in the past year, the smallest gain since August 2010.

World markets were mixed, with a welcome slip in oil prices offset by worries about slowing growth in China.

The price of oil dropped almost $2 in a few minutes before noon, to just above $104 per barrel, after a report that the United States and Britain were considering releasing oil from emergency reserves.

In Asia, markets mostly fell after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said curbs that have slowed a run-up in housing prices will remain in place, despite fears that the effort could contribute to the nation's economic slowdown.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.7 percent. But Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed 0.2 percent higher, and Japan's Nikkei index rose 0.7 percent as the yen continued to decline from record highs against the U.S. dollar.

Markets in Europe were mixed. Britain's FTSE 100 index fell 0.2 percent, but France's CAC 40 index gained 0.1 percent, Germany's DAX index gained 0.6 percent.

Among the stocks making big moves on Thursday:

-- CSX Corp. jumped 6 percent, most than any stock in the Dow, after its chief financial officer said at a conference that the railroad expects the improving economy to drive record first-quarter earnings.

-- Cisco Systems Inc. slipped 1 percent after it announced a $5 billion deal to buy NDS Group Ltd. from News Corp. Shares of the owner of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal edged higher.

-- Sears Holdings Corp. shares gained 1 percent after the troubled department store chain said its top investor tried to ease vendors' concerns early this year by taking on some of the risk that they would face if Sears filed for bankruptcy.

-- Sundance Channel owner AMC Networks Inc. dropped 3 percent after the Cablevision spinoff said its fourth-quarter earnings fell short of analysts' estimates.


AP Business Writer Daniel Wagner in Washington contributed to this report.