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U.S. stocks rise as economy shows signs of improvement

The New York Stock Exchange in New York.  (Associated Press)
By Damian J. Troise and Alex Veiga Associated Press

Stocks edged higher on Wall Street Thursday as investors received more signals that the economy is continuing to heal from the pandemic.

Economic reports showed that unemployment is falling and the U.S. economy grew at a solid rate during the first quarter.

The S&P 500 was up 0.1% as of 2:39 p.m. Eastern. The benchmark index had been up 0.4% in the early going. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 91 points, or 0.3% to 34,413, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq was up less than 0.1%. The Russell 2000 index of smaller stocks rose 1.1% in yet another signal that investors were confident about the economy going forward.

Industrial and financial stocks were among the biggest gainers. General Electric rose 6.5% for the biggest gain in the S&P 500, while Boeing was up 3.6%. Citigroup added 1%. Those gains were tempered largely by slide in technology companies. Health care and household goods makers also lagged the broader market.

Investors were given a mostly positive set of economic reports on Thursday. The number of Americans who filed for unemployment benefits fell yet again to a pandemic low of 406,000. A growing number of states, all of them controlled by Republicans, have started cutting off unemployed workers from the $300-a-week jobless benefit that was part of the latest economic recovery package. That’s likely pushing additional Americans into the active labor force.

Meanwhile, there was disappointing data on sales of durable goods, that is expensive items that are expected to last three years or more, fell 1.3% according to the Commerce Department. That figure was expected to rise, according to economists.

Lastly the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy grew at a 6.4% annual rate in the first quarter as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

“We’re advising investors that if we’re going to get outsized positive economic news, it really supports the extent to which and the speed with which we’re going to see a reopening in the economy,” said Greg Bassuk, founder and CEO of AXS Investments. “And we think stocks are reacting positively to that today.”

Investors are looking ahead to Friday’s inflation data. The growing economy has raised inflation concerns, though analysts expect that much of the increase will be tied to economic growth and will be digestible.

The data out Friday is the Commerce Department’s personal consumption expenditures index, more commonly referred to as PCE. The Federal Reserve, whose job is to monitor and control inflation as best as they can, tends to rely on PCE data more than the more widely known consumer price index, or CPI, when making policy decisions.

Bond yields have been relatively stable this week, and remained so on Thursday. The 10-year U.S. Treasury note traded at a yield of 1.61%, up from 1.57% the day before. It has remained in this range for the last two weeks.