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Stocks Rise; Dow Edges Toward All-Time High


NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock averages were moving higher Thursday afternoon as a lower-than-expected revision in fourth-quarter gross domestic product data offset better-than-anticipated Chicago business activity and jobless claims reports.

The markets have largely continued to shrug off sequestration deadline concerns, with the Dow still hovering near its all-time closing high of 14,164 as monetary stimulus reassurances offset the fiscal drag.

"U.S. equity markets thus far have been resilient to political developments in Italy and looming federal spending sequestration, due to take effect on Friday," noted Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was adding 54.26 points, or 0.39%, to 14,129.63.

Breadth was positive, with gainers outpacing laggards 25 to five. Home Depot (HD) , Coca-Cola(KO) , Hewlett-Packard(HPQ) and Verizon(VZ) were among the stocks edging higher.

Procter & Gamble (PG) , IBM(IBM) and United Health (UNH) were among the sharpest percentage blue-chip decliners.

The S&P 500 was up 7.57 points, or 0.50%, to 1523.56. The Nasdaq was higher by 16.60 points, or 0.52%, to 3178.86.

Most sectors in the broader market were in the green, led higher by consumer cyclicals, health care, and transportation. Only the basic materials sector was in the red.

Volumes were at just 2.03 billion shares on the Big Board and 1.13 billion on the Nasdaq. Advancers were edging decliners by a ratio of 1.8-to-1 on the New York Stock Exchange and 1.4-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

In U.S. economic news Thursday, the Chicago PMI ticked up to 56.8 in February from 55.6. Economists were expecting levels to fall to 54.

"Overall, this was a solid report -- consistent with the strong Empire State and Richmond Fed surveys, but in contrast to the headline decline in the Philly Fed survey -- and suggests upside risk on tomorrow's ISM manufacturing report," Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs, wrote in a note.

The Labor Department said initial jobless claims in the week ended Feb. 23 were 344,000, a decrease of 22,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised 366,000. The four-week moving average was 355,000, a decline of 6,750 from the previous week's 361,750.

Continuing claims in the week ended Feb. 16 were 3.074 million, a fall of 91,000 from the preceding week's upwardly revised level of 3.165 million.

Economists, on average, predicted initial jobless claims of 360,000 and continuing claims of 3.15 million.

Cooper Howes, U.S. economist for Barclays, said that the initial jobless claims numbers were a "solid" improvement from the prior week and are the latest evidence that the labor markets are steadily improving.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis' second estimate on fourth-quarter gross domestic product was an increase of 0.1% versus a decrease of 0.1% in the previous estimate. Economists were expecting a revised increase of 0.5%.