NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks moved higher in midday trading Thursday after the government reported that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in three months. Staples plunged 15 percent after the company said it was closing 10 percent of its stores as more people shop online.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose seven points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,881 as of 12:15 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 86 points, or 0.5 percent, to 16,446. The Nasdaq composite increased 11 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,369.
FEWER LAYOFFS: The number of people who filed for unemployment benefits fell by 26,000 last week to 323,000. That was far fewer than the 337,000 claims economists had expected, according to FactSet, and a sign that fewer people are being laid off.
JOBS REPORT: Investors are looking ahead to Friday, when the government releases its monthly survey of the U.S. job market. Many expect that employers held back on hiring last month because of the severe winter storms that hit much of the country. Economists expect that employers added 145,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate held steady at 6.6 percent.
UKRAINE: Investors were keeping a close eye on Russia's military presence in the Ukrainian region of Crimea. The market plunged on Monday, then roared back on Tuesday as the rhetoric between Russia and the West escalated, then eased. Moscow-backed Crimean officials said Thursday that Crimea would hold a referendum in two weeks to decide whether it should be annexed by Russia. Any flare-up in tensions would be sure to rattle markets again.
RINGING REGISTERS: Kroger rose 34 cents, or 1 percent, to $44.02 after the nation's largest supermarket chain reported better sales than investors were expecting. The company also operates Ralphs and Fry's markets. Another retailer didn't fare as well. Costco fell $3.44, or 3 percent, to $112.99 after the company's quarterly earnings and sales missed analysts' estimates.
RETRENCHING: Staples plunged $1.93, or 14 percent, to $11.47 after the office supply chain said it would close 10 percent of its stores because nearly half of its sales are now generated online.
OTHER MARKETS: Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose to 2.73 percent from 2.71 percent Wednesday. Gold rose $7.80, or 0.6 percent, to $1,348.20 an ounce. Gold has risen 2 percent this week, partly because of the escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine.