Stocks Climb as Apple Shares Rebound

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At a press conference following the meeting, ECB President Mario Draghi said that the euro area economic outlook continues to face downside risks, and expects economic weakness to persist into next year, amid uncertainties over sovereign debt and governance in the region and fiscal policy decisions in the U.S. However, he said economic activity may pick up gradually later next year on stronger global demand and confidence in the financial markets, and consistent accommodative monetary policy stances.

On the U.S. data front Thursday, the Labor Department said initial jobless claims for the week ended Dec. 1 fell 25,000 to 370,000, coming in lower than the expected 380,000. The prior week's claims were upwardly revised to 395,000.

The four-week claims average rose to 408,000 from 405,750.

Continuing claims for the week ended Nov. 24 fell by 100,000 to 3.21 million from the preceding week's upwardly revised 3.305 million; economists were expecting 3.275 million.

"Initial jobless claims have returned to pre-Sandy levels and the four-week average of claims should trend lower in the weeks ahead," noted John Ryding and Conrad DeQuadros, the founders of research firm RDQ Economics. "However, the turn of the year is often a period of greater-than-usual volatility in initial claims due to seasonal adjustment issues and the claims data may reflect more noise and less signal in the coming weeks."

"We expect tomorrow's employment report to feature below-trend payroll growth due to disruptions from the storm," they said of Friday's big November nonfarm payrolls report from the government.

Global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported Thursday that job cuts increased for the third consecutive month in November, as employers announced plans to shed 57,081 workers from their payrolls. Overall, November cuts were 34% higher than the 42,474 job cuts announced by employers the same month last year.

The November surge was led by the food industry, with bulk of the cuts resulting from the bankruptcy of Hostess Brands , according to the report.

Gold for February delivery rose $8 to settle at $1,701.80 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while January crude oil contracts fell $1.62 to close at $86.26 a barrel.

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The benchmark 10-year Treasury was flat at a yield of 1.591%. The dollar was spiking 0.53%, according to the U.S. dollar index.

In corporate news, Broadcom (BRCM) lifted its outlook for fourth-quarter revenue on Wednesday to a range of $2 billion to $2.1 billion, from its previous range of $1.95 billion to $2.1 billion.

The chipmaker cited better-than-expected results in its wireless division. Shares rose 3.2%.

Smithfield Foods (SFD) , a meat producer, posted fiscal second-quarter adjusted earnings of 61 cents a share on revenue of $3.23 billion, compared with the average analyst estimate of 44 cents a share on revenue of $3.3 billion.