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Thursday, March 15, 2012 3:30:44 PM

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S&P 500 Tops 1400; Investors Cheer More Solid US Economic Data
PROVIDED BY Dow Jones & Company, Inc. - 3:17 PM 03/15/2012

Stocks higher after firm economic data on U.S. labor market, manufacturing activity

--S&P 500 tops 1400 for the first time since June 2008

--Dow on pace for seventh straight gain

By Chris Dieterich and Matt Jarzemsky

NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Stocks rose, as the S&P 500 topped 1400 for the first time in nearly four years, after firm readings on the jobs market and manufacturing activity.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 36 points, or 0.3%, to 13220, with less than an hour before Thursday's closing bell. The Dow industrials are on course for a seventh consecutive gain, the longest streak since an eight-session run ended in February.

The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index rose six points, or 0.5%, to 1402, and the Nasdaq Composite gained 12 points, or 0.4%, to 3052.

Financial and industrial stocks were the big gainers among sectors in the S&P 500. Bank of America rose 3.9% and J.P. Morgan Chase gained 2.5% to lead the blue chips. Among blue chips, Cisco Systems fell 1.3% after announcing plans to acquire NDS Group, a U.K. video software maker, in a $4 billion deal. Apple edged 0.3% lower after briefly topping $600 for the first time.

In economic data, the number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week. New claims are hovering at about levels last seen four years ago. Meanwhile, manufacturers from upstate New York down to Delaware are seeing better business conditions this month, according to separate reports released Thursday by Federal Reserve banks.

"You had another round of good economic data here in the U.S., [and] you're sort of in a situation where the economy is in a self-sustaining recovery," said John Canally, economist strategist at LPL Financial.

U.S. wholesale prices increased in February at the fastest pace in five months. The Producer Price Index increased a seasonally adjusted 0.4%, but producer prices were up 0.2% without energy and food components.

European markets reversed early losses and pushed higher, with the Stoxx Europe 600 up 0.3% to end with its highest close since July. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index, however, declined 0.1% after Fitch Ratings cuts its outlook on the U.K. to negative.

Asian bourses mostly were lower. China's Shanghai Composite fell 0.7%, but Japan's Nikkei Stock Average rose 0.7% to its highest close since July.

Crude-oil prices fell 0.1% to $105.43 a barrel, and gold added 1%, to $1659.10 a troy ounce. The dollar lost ground against the euro and yen. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.290%.

In other corporate news, Scholastic jumped 14% after it reported its fiscal third-quarter loss narrowed as the popularity of "The Hunger Games" series aided the children's book publisher's sales and improved margins. Scholastic also raised its full-year earnings estimate.

Guess slumped 10% as fiscal fourth-quarter revenue fell short of expectations, even as earnings were in line, and the apparel and accessories retailer provided first-quarter earnings and revenue outlooks well below projections.

Capital One Financial rose 3.4% after it said it plans to offer up to $1.25 billion of its common stock in a public sale to help fund its previously announced acquisition of HSBC's U.S. credit-card business.

Video-conferencing-technologies company Radvision advanced 4.4% after it agreed to be acquired by Avaya in a deal valued at $230 million.

Vera Bradley slid 10% after reporting fiscal fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that topped estimates, but provided a first-quarter earnings outlook that was below projections.

Winnebago Industries climbed 15% after reporting better-than-expected fiscal second-quarter revenue.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires
03-15-12 1517ET

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