Stocks pull higher on strong manufacturing report

Stocks finished higher Thursday after a strong manufacturing report overshadowed a bigger than expected rise in the number of people applying for unemployment benefits.

Stocks finished higher Thursday after a strong manufacturing report overshadowed a bigger than expected rise in the number of people applying for unemployment benefits.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said its index of manufacturing in the mid-Atlantic region nearly doubled between January and February. The surge in manufacturing was enough to offset a Labor Department report that applications for unemployment benefits rose 25,000 from the previous week.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 29.97 points, or 0.3 percent, to 12,318.1. The Dow has been rising steadily this month, with only three down days in February. For the month, it's already up 3.6 percent.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 4, or 0.3 percent, to 1,340.43. The Nasdaq composite rose 6, or 0.2 percent, to 2,831.58.

"The initial jobless claims data look disappointing," said Anthony Chan, chief economist at JPMorgan Private Wealth Management. "But from a longer-term perspective we're seeing a pickup in employment."

Chan said the most recent data appears bad compared to the previous week, when claims for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level since July 2008. But that was partly a result of winter weather in many parts of the country that closed government offices and kept people from applying for benefits.

The government also reported that consumer prices in January were slightly higher than forecast, largely a result of rising food and gas prices. The Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent. The core index, which excludes food and energy costs, looked relatively tame, rising 0.2 percent.

Forecasters had expected to see the price index rise 0.3 percent last month, and the core index inch up 0.1 percent.

Barrick Gold Corp., Duke Energy Corp. and J.M. Smucker Co. all rose after reporting stronger earnings results.

Barrick's quarterly profit jumped four-fold, helped by higher production and lower costs. The world's largest gold miner's stock gained 1.9 percent.

Duke Energy's net income grew 23 percent, boosted by gains from selling assets and rising customer demand. Duke gained 2.3 percent.

Profit fell at J.M. Smucker, maker of Jif peanut butter and Folgers coffee, but still beat analysts' expectations. The company also raised its earnings outlook for the year. J.M. Smucker rose 4.2 percent.

Coca-Cola Co. gained 1.8 percent after it announced that it increased its dividend.

Two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to 3.8 billion shares.

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