NEW YORK – Stocks managed to notch a modest gain Thursday, with Wall Street cautious ahead of today’s jobs report but hopeful that the global financial system is on the mend.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress on Thursday the Fed expects to recover most, if not all, the $29 billion worth of loans it made to keep struggling Bear Stearns Cos. from collapse. Bernanke’s remarks were calming to investors hoping that demand is returning to the tight credit markets.
John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch & Co., also lent some solace to the market after telling Japanese financial newspaper the Nikkei that the investment bank has sufficient cash and will not need to raise more.
The stock market has been performing well recently because of its newfound confidence about the global financial system – even in the face of poor economic data. Early Thursday, stocks dipped after the Labor Department reported a spike in jobless claims to a level not seen since September 2005.
But the decline was mild and short-lived – particularly given the huge advance Wall Street logged Tuesday and has mostly maintained, and the fact that economists expect the government to report today there was a jobs loss in March for the third straight month.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 20.20, or 0.16 percent, to 12,626.03.
Broader stock indicators also edged higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1.78, or 0.13 percent, to 1,369.31, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 1.90, or 0.08 percent, to 2,363.30.
The Dow, which shot up nearly 400 points on Tuesday, is up 7.6 percent from its March 10 low, its worst level since October 2006.
Government bonds rose slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 3.59 percent in late trading from 3.60 percent late Wednesday.
Crude oil fell $1 to $103.83 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after a surge a day earlier on the prospect of climbing demand for gasoline.
The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold rebounded back above $900 an ounce.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.30, or 0.18 percent, to 713.57.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to 3.77 billion shares, down from 4.19 billion shares Wednesday.
JP Morgan Chase & Co. rose 9 cents to $46.28 and Bear Stearns Cos. fell 14 cents to $10.72 after each company’s chief executive spoke to Congress following Bernanke’s testimony.