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Stocks Gain Modestly as Investors Await August Jobs Report

Tickers in this article: FAST GRPN JCP NBR ^DJI ^GSPC ^IXIC

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks posted modest gains Thursday on steady improvements in the labor market even as investors await an August employment report due Friday morning that may offer greater insight into the strength of the U.S. economic recovery.

The S&P 500 was up 0.12% to 1,655.08 while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.04% to 14,937.48. The Nasdaq was higher by 0.27% to 3,658.78.

Market participants are closely gauging employment numbers as the Federal Reserve has said the national jobs outlook will affect its decision on whether to taper its economic stimulus program.

"It would seem that good news will be good news overall for the market in the bigger picture," said Todd Salamone, senior vice president of research at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "Maybe not tomorrow, but I think what the market wants to see is if or when there is tapering we have an economy that can handle that."

The private sector created 176,000 jobs in August, less-than-forecast but well within the overall view of modest improvement in the country's jobless picture, according to payroll processor Automatic Data Processing. A 200,000 increase was expected according to a poll of economists by Thomson Reuters.

Economists are anticipating the United States to have add 180,000 nonfarm payrolls in August, according to surveys by Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg. Though many economists and analysts continue to forecast some form of central bank tapering, there remains skepticism amid the recent labor data.

"The ADP report says that, 'Look, we're still creating jobs, but the labor market is not growing at a robust pace,'" said Lindsey Piegza, economist at Sterne Agee. "You plug in the 176,000 jobs and that's the exact three month average that we saw last month ... so they're saying no change, and ... I suspect that the Fed is going to be erring on the side of caution and will not begin got taper until we see improvement."

Jobless claims fell by 9,000 to a lower than expected 323,000 from an upwardly-revised 332,000 for the week ended Aug. 31, according to Labor Department. Economists were expecting a slip to 330,000. The four-week moving average was 328,500, a decrease of 3,000 from the previous week's average of 331,500, the lowest level since October 2007.

In market news, Fastenal was the biggest gainer in the S&P, surging 6% to $48.60 after the industrial and construction supplies company reported that sales rose 2.5% to $297.7 million in August from a year ago as daily sales rates climbed 7.2%.

Nabors Industries jumped 3.5% to $16.14 after the oil and gas drilling contractor said that a subsidiary has agreed to sell $700 million in senior unsecured notes in a private offering. The company plans to use the proceeds, along with cash on hand and borrowings under a revolving credit facility, to buy outstanding senior notes due in 2019 and to make fee and expense payments.