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Wall Street strong for the second day

NEW YORK – Wall Street scored its second straight big advance Thursday after economic figures suggested the job market is holding up and as lawmakers agreed on measures that could ease concerns about consumer spending. The Dow Jones industrials rose more than 100 points, bringing its two-day gain to more than 400.

While stocks fluctuated throughout the session, trading was decidedly more calm than on Wednesday, when Wall Street executed a stunning turnaround that transformed a sharp sell-off into big gains. Thursday’s rise was notable, however, as investors will often move in a day after a rally or plunge to take profits or scoop up bargains. That the buying largely continued was a positive sign, observers said.

Investors clearly were interested in buying, but despite the size of the advance, there didn’t appear to be much conviction to it – the market is still searching for clues about the economy in hopes of determining whether it will soon pick up or will continue to slow and tip into recession.

Those seeking good news found some in a Labor Department report that said the number of people seeking unemployment benefits last week fell for a fourth straight week. Applications for benefits dropped 1,000 to 301,000, pushing claims down to the lowest level in four months.

Investors also appeared pleased by a widely anticipated agreement between congressional leaders and the White House on an economic stimulus package. The agreement calls for most tax filers to be given refunds of $600 to $1,200, and more if they have children.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 108.44, or 0.88 percent, to 12,378.61, following a nearly 300 point surge on Wednesday. The Dow has not finished higher for two straight sessions since Jan. 9-10.

Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 13.47, or 1.01 percent, to 1,352.07, and the Nasdaq composite index advanced 44.51, or 1.92 percent, to 2,360.92.

The Dow on Wednesday swung 631.86 points from its low point to its high – its largest single-day reversal in more than five years.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average closed up 2.06 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 2.29 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 finished ahead by 4.75 percent, Germany’s DAX index surged 5.93 percent, and France’s CAC-40 jumped 6.01 percent.